Al Jazeera television network logo
Al Jazeera television network logoAFP photo

A reporter for Al-Jazeera English was released Sunday from an Egyptian prison and deported, after more than a year behind bars, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

His two Egyptian colleagues remain jailed in a case widely condemned as a sham by human-rights groups, the report noted.

Australian Peter Greste was whisked away on a flight to Cyprus. His release came as a welcome surprise to fellow reporters and activists who spent months pressing for his freedom.

At the same time, rights groups and Greste's Qatar-based broadcaster called on Egypt to release the other two defendants in the case.

Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed were arrested in December 2013 over their coverage of the violent crackdown on Islamist protests following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.

Egyptian authorities accused the three of providing a platform for Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, now declared a terrorist organization. Authorities provided no concrete evidence, noted AP, and the journalists and their supporters insist they were doing their jobs during a time of violent upheaval.

The three were seen as having been caught up in a regional power struggle between Egypt and Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera and had been a strong backer of Morsi. Greste's release follows a thawing of ties between Cairo and Doha.

A Qatari envoy recently met with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the first such meeting since he was elected in June.

Al-Sisi’s office said Egypt hoped the meeting, which was attended by a Saudi royal envoy, was the beginning of a "new era" that puts the past disagreements between the two countries behind.

Egypt has accused Al-Jazeera in general, and its Egypt affiliate, Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, in particular, of doing Doha's bidding by serving as Islamists' mouthpiece at a time of a ferocious crackdown on their ranks.

The station denies any bias, saying it is simply covering Islamist protests, but recently shut down its Egypt channel as Qatar and Egypt grow closer.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who had been negotiating for Greste's release, said that journalist had told her by telephone from Egypt that he was desperate to return to his family in the Australian city of Brisbane after spending 400 days in custody.

"He was immensely relieved and he was desperate to come home to Australia and reunite with his family," Bishop told reporters in Sydney, according to AP.

"From my discussion with him, he was very keen to be back on a beach and lying in the sun in Australia," she said.

Greste had been given short notice that he was being released "unconditionally," Bishop said.

Canada welcomed the "positive developments" and said it was hopeful that Fahmy's case would be "resolved shortly," according to a statement from the office of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular.