SYDNEY -- The winner of the 2015 Human Rights Medal, Peter Greste, has warned Australia is in danger of going down the same strict national security path as the nation which got him and his colleagues locked up for more than a year over their journalistic work.
The Australian Al Jazeera correspondent spent 400 days detained in an Egyptian jail with colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, accused of colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood and news reporting which was "damaging to national security".
Greste was Thursday honoured at the Human Rights Commission's annual awards in Sydney for “selflessly and tirelessly” campaigning for the release of his colleagues and press freedom.
The journalist feels a burden of gratitude.
“One of the main reasons I have been talking about this is so strongly is because I feel a sense of duty to almost repay the debt of gratitude for all those who fought for us in the first place,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.
“It is hard to imagine it was about me personally. It was because of what we came to stand for.”
Greste is concerned about the Federal Government’s national security reaction to the threat of Islamic extremists. Five tranches of counter terrorism laws have been introduced, four have passed into law, including the foreign fighters and the data retention bills.
“I am very worried about what they do,” he declared.
“Each in their own way has a very tangible impact on the way journalists do their work.”
Drawing from personal experience, Greste said he is not suggesting Australia is heading towards any kind of police state, but he wants a better debate about the impact of the laws.
“The kind of thinking that put us in prison in Egypt, that’s using national security as an excuse to lock up a bunch of journalists because they were reporting from across the political spectrum, is I think the road I think we are in danger of moving down in our own country.”
“Particularly in the rush to defend ourselves from terrorist attacks.”
“I am not entirely convinced that the gains in security are necessarily enough to justify what we have lost in terms of basic rights including freedom of the press.”
Greste was up against other human rights advocates, Maha Abdo, Rodney Croome, Professor Pat Dudgeon and Adam Goodes.
The President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs described Greste as an impressive person and a worthy winner.
“Peter just stood out as a beacon globally and I just think as Australian we are just very proud of him,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“What I was am so impressed by, is he then turned around and started to do the same thing for the men who were left behind.
“He has not given up. He got what was needed personally, obviously, but he has not given up in talking about the way in which unfortunately journalists are dealt with globally.”