Australian journalist Peter Greste worried he would be sent back to an Egyptian prison after being released, saying he didn’t believe he was free until he was on a plane to Cyprus.
Speaking in his first interview after spending 400 days in a Cairo jail, the Al Jazeera correspondent said he was in shock after being given just “minutes’ notice” about his release.
“I went for a run and the prison warden called me over and told me ‘It’s time to pack your stuff’. I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said ‘You’re going’.”
“I said ‘Where? To another prison?’. He told me ‘The embassy is coming, they’ll be here in an hour’.”
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The 49-year-old was released from prison on Monday under a decree passed by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that allows the transfer on foreigners on trial.
Mr Greste said he was worried his freedom would be “snatched away” on his way to the airport.
“The ride to the airport was a sense of really wondering if it was going to come to an end because we’ve had an awful lot of false starts,” he said.
“I really didn’t want to let myself believe it really was happening until I got my backside on a seat on that plane with my brother mike and we knew then, at least for me, it was over.”
Mr Greste revealed his angst over leaving his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who were also arrested on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said the men had become his brothers.
“It was a really difficult moment walking out and leaving the prison, saying goodbye to those guys, not knowing how much longer they will have to put up with this.”
“I’ve got to know and accept Baher and Mohamed as family, they’re my brothers.”
“Amidst all this relief, I still feel a sense of concern and worry. If it’s appropriate for me to be free, it’s right for all of them to be freed.”
Mohamed Fahmy’s family hopes the Canadian-Egyptian will be deported in coming weeks under the same presidential decree, but the future of Egyptian Baher Mohamed is unclear.
Mr Greste said he had worked to keep himself fit while in prison to give himself “a kind of discipline”, and hoped he hadn’t come out “too damaged”.
“I made a very concious effort to deal with all three of those things: to try and keep fit, running in a very limited space, to keep up an excercise programme, to keep mentally fit with study and spiritually fit too with meditation.”
– with AAP