In his first hours of freedom from an Egyptian prison, Al Jazeera English journalist Peter Greste said he was savoring the "little beautiful moments of life" while agonizing over the fate of two co-workers who remain behind bars. "I can't tell you how relieved I am being free," Greste, speaking publicly for the first time since his Sunday release, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. "But I also feel incredible angst about my colleagues, leaving them behind."
Greste, 49, along with colleagues Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, was sentenced to prison last year in a trial that human rights groups labeled a sham. The three were arrested over their coverage of a violent crackdown on Islamist protests following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. More than a dozen other co-defendents received long prison sentences, some of them in absentia.
Greste, an Australian national, was freed after the Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi approved his deportation. He was put aboard an EgyptAir flight to Cyprus late Sunday afternoon. In an interview Monday from Cyprus, Greste recalled the tense moments following the news of his release, when he was unsure after many "false alarms" whether to allow himself to hope. "I really didn't want let myself believe it really was happening until I got my backside on the seat on the plane, with my brother Mike and we knew then, for me at least, this is over," Greste said.
During his captivity, Greste said, he tried to maintain his physical, mental and spiritual strength through exercise, study and meditation. "Hopefully, touch wood, I won't come out too damaged," he said. But he said if he was deemed appropriate to be freed, his colleagues should be, too. Fahmy is an Egyptian-Canadian and Mohammed is an Egyptian. "It was a very difficult moment walking out of that prison, saying goodbye to those guys, not knowing how much longer they would have to put up with this," Greste said.
He also recalled watching his first sunset, looking at stars, feeling sand under his feet. "This has been like a rebirth, and you realize that it is those little beautiful moments of life that are really precious, and spending time with my family, of course, too. That's what's important, not the big issues."