Updated: 05/03/2014 00:16 | By Agence France-Presse

Australian journalist held in Egypt defiant on press freedom

Australian journalist Peter Greste on Friday said his detention and that of his Al-Jazeera colleagues in an Egyptian jail had become a powerful symbol of press freedom worldwide.


Australian journalist held in Egypt defiant on press freedom

Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al-Jazeera looks on standing inside the defendants cage during his trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo's Tora prison on March 5, 2014 - by Khaled Desouki

In a statement from his prison cell on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Greste said he was "deeply moved and strengthened" by the outpouring of support for his case, which has sparked international condemnation.

Now in his 125th day of detention, Greste has denied charges of spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

"Our case has become emblematic of the freedom of the press worldwide," he said. Four journalists, including Greste, working for the pan-Arab news network are in custody in Egypt while several others have been tried in absentia.

"What began as a campaign to put down Islamic militancy has been extended to everyone who in the government's words spreads the ideology of terror.

"If by arresting us, the government sought to send a message to journalists both foreign and local working here, then the campaign for our release has sent an unequivocal response."

Greste said muzzling the press was "an abuse of basic universally accepted social rights and responsibilities -- the right to speak freely and openly coupled with the media's responsibility to question, interrogate and challenge those in power".

"What often gets lost is the fundamental truth that the best defence against insecurity is a vibrant, open, noisy and yes at times even rabid press, willing to snap at the extremists with as much enthusiasm as tearing strips off the authorities."

He added that press freedom was now being defended "in a way that would have been unimaginable before our arrest".

The watchdog Freedom House said on Thursday that world press freedom has hit its lowest level in a decade after a regression in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine, and US efforts to curb national security reporting.

The report found that the share of the world's population with media rated "free" was 14 percent in 2013, or only one in seven people.

A total of 44 percent of the world population lived in areas where the media was "not free" and 42 percent in places where it was "partly free", the Freedom of the Press 2014 report said.

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