Peter Greste won the Human Rights Medal at the Human Rights Awards 2015 held on Thursday 10 December at The Westin Sydney organized by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Greste, an Australian journalist working for Al-Jazeera spent 400 days in an Egyptian prison after being arrested for terrorism related offences while reporting on removal of the elected Morsi government by the Egyptian military strongman Al-Sisi in mid 2013.
Since his release in February 2015, Greste has been campaigning for freedom of speech and the importance of a free and encumbered media in properly functioning democracies.
In his acceptance speech Greste thanked his family, professional colleagues, media, politicians and the Australian public who wrote about the case with “incredible passion and vigor”.
Peter Greste warned that the government’s anti-terror legislation may put the nation in danger of heading down the same path as Egypt. He used the opportunity to address the impact of national security laws on press freedom and freedom of speech.
“The kind of thinking that put us in prison in Egypt – using national security as an excuse to lock up a bunch of journalists because they were reporting from across the political spectrum – is the road we are in danger of moving down in our own country,” he said.
Greste specifically cited section 35P of the ASIO Act, which makes it an offence for any person to disclose information about special intelligence operations (SIOs) conducted by the head security service.
He said the foreign fighters bill and data retention laws should also be cause for concern.
Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission during her keynote address ‘The Future of Human Rights in Australia”, said “I believe one of the greatest challenges for our political leaders is to ensure that counter terrorism measures does not diminish our humanity for those seeking protection from conflict and persecution. We must avoid the false stereotype that Muslims seeking our protection are potential terrorists. It is imperative that we do not equate violent terrorism with the peaceful religion of Islam.”
She also raised concern about counter terrorism laws, data retention laws, refugees, asylum centres and those detained at Nauru, and the over representation of aboriginal Australians in jail.
Professor Triggs said that she was in Paris during the terrorist attacks last month visiting her daughter’s family and was shocked by the scale of killing of innocent people. However she was much concerned about the backlash of the attacks on restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers entering Europe and extent of raids and legislation being enacted in that will undermine personal freedoms and human rights in those countries.
The gala event organized annually to mark the Human Rights Day by the UN on 10 December was attended this year by almost 500 people with ABC Chaser’s Craig Reucassel acting as the MC while entertainment was provide by Abe Nouk Australian Poetry Slam champion and a former refugee from Sudan.
The shortlisted runners up for the Human Rights Medal included Muslim Women Association leader, Maha Krayem Abdo, Mental Health Commissioner Professor Pat Dudgeon, former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes and Australian Marriage Equality’s national director Rodney Croome.
Winners of the various categories of the Human Rights Awards 2015 included:
Racism. It Stops With Me Award – Tasmanian Students Against Racism, SAR from Hobart.
Business Award – Coles.
Media Award – The Storm by Kirsti Melville (ABC Radio National)
Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Community Award – Ludo McFerran, Advocate for dealing with Family Violence from Victoria.
Law Award – Genevieve Bolton, Community Human Rights Lawyer (Canberra Community Law).
Young People’s Human Rights Medal – Yen Eriksen (23), LGBTIQ Issues Campaigner from Canberra.
Human Rights Medal – Peter Greste, Journalist.
Notable finalists included:
Maha Krayem Abdo – Finalist for the Human Rights Medal for help towards empowering women and youth from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Sarah Malik – Finalist for Media Award for ‘The Extraordinary Detention of Sayed Abdellatif’ with Ben Doherty’ in The Guardian.