The Australian government is seeking verification from Egyptian authorities of whether a new presidential decree from Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could mean the release of jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste.
El-Sisi issued a decree on Wednesday that would allow him to transfer foreign prisoners back to their home countries where they could be tried or serve out their sentences.
“This decision comes in the framework of upholding the nation’s interests and preserving Egypt’s international image,” official Egyptian news agency MENA quoted presidential spokesman Alaa Yousef as saying.
The decree could have implications for Australian Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, who was arrested in December in Cairo along with Egyptian colleague Baher Mohamed and dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen Mohamed Fahmy.
In June, Greste was found guilty of spreading false news and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and sentenced to seven years’ jail. He has already served more than 300 days in prison.
The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, told reporters on Thursday that the government is looking at the new law.
“We are in constant communication with the Egyptian authorities. At this stage, Peter Greste’s appeal has been listed for the first of January, 2015. We’re providing all possible consular support and we continue to make representations at the very highest level with the Egyptian authorities,” she said.
“Whether this … announcement impacts on Peter Greste’s case is something we’re seeking to verify.”
The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said she is hopeful that “Peter and his colleagues will soon be able to rejoin their families and put this horrific episode behind them”.
“President al-Sisi’s new law on extradition of foreign defendants gives momentum to the global campaign to free Peter Greste and the Al-Jazeera staff who are unjustly imprisoned for doing nothing more than reporting the news,” she said.
“Make no mistake, the imprisonment of the Al-Jazeera staff on trumped up charges is an international affront to a free press and to human decency. Apart from being grossly unjust it is a stain on the reputation of Egypt’s government and legal system. The Australian government must redouble diplomatic efforts for the release of Peter Greste and his colleagues.”
It’s unclear what will happen to Baher Mohamed – who is Egyptian and therefore not subject to the new decree – if his colleagues are released. Mohamed received the stiffest penalty of the trio – ten years’ jail.
Human rights groups have condemned the jailing of the journalists, and Egypt has faced global pressure to release them.
Guardian Australia has sought comment from Peter Greste’s family, who has been tirelessly campaigning for his release since his arrest, and his employer Al-Jazeera in Australia.