Obama and Abbott press for Peter Greste’s release

US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have personally urged the release of jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste in meetings with Egypt’s leader.

President Obama and Mr Abbott had one-on-one meetings with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in late September.

The meetings in New York came after Greste’s parents, Lois and Juris, returned from visiting Peter in the Cairo prison where he has been held since last December.

Greste and his al-Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were convicted in June of spreading false news and aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood group after a sham trial that has provoked international outrage.

Greste and Fahmy received seven-year jail terms, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years. They have all denied any wrongdoing.

President Obama told his Egyptian counterpart all three men should be freed.

US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters the president had a “frank exchange” about human rights, including the rights of free speech and the rights of journalists.

“The president expressed his view that those journalists should be released,” he said.

During their visit to Cairo, Peter Greste’s parents were able to witness the tough conditions under which their son is being held but said he remained strong.

They said Peter had managed to obtain permission from prison officials to tend to a small herb garden, ensuring he is able to step outside his cell at least once a day.

They said he had also taken to filling plastic bottles with water to help him exercise. He has begun a post-graduate course in international relations by correspondence through Griffith University and will complete assignments in pencil.

Greste has also drawn inspiration from Nelson Mandela and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as he endures his time in prison.

His parents celebrated their birthdays while in Egypt, with Greste giving them a framed piece of art he created in jail, which contained the quote: “Like a diamond that can only be found when all that surrounds it is destroyed, by being threatened with annihilation we discover that which is indestructible within.”

Peter Greste spends an hour a day meditating and an hour a day exercising. He has no access to the internet or a computer.

Some of the 2000 letters that have been emailed to his family have been printed out and taken into the prison for him to read.

He is allowed a visitor once every 15 days. Visits typically last about 45 minutes, but involve hours of rigorous security checks.

“He’s incredible — he’s settled to the fact that he’s going to be in prison until this process is over,” Lois Greste said.

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