The parents of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste said Thursday that visiting their son for the first time in an Egyptian prison was the “most difficult day” of their lives.
Greste was sentenced to serve seven years in prison by an Egyptian court earlier this month, alongside his colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. They have already been held in detention for more than six months.
The charges on which they were tried included spreading false news and associating with a banned organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera denies the charges and condemns the sentences, calling on Egypt to immediately release its journalists.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Greste's mother, Lois Greste, said he was delighted to see them but seemed "somber."
"It was not easy ... It was quite emotional when we arrived, but also when we left," Lois Greste said, adding that she and her husband, Juris Greste, were allowed to spend only 45 minutes with their son.
Still, she said, their visit appeared to raise Peter Greste's spirits. "He was absolutely so delighted to see us," she said.
Lois Greste said every member of her family has been affected by his imprisonment. "It's not an easy thing to do to go into a prison," she said. "The condition is very harsh and dark and dusty. It was not easy. That's all I can say."
Juris Greste echoed her sentiment in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Co. "It was a horrendous experience," he told the channel.
"Had we had a small bucket between us as we were sharing hugs, it might have even overflowed with tears, with tears and sobs. His mood is very somber. His mood is obviously very, very somber, facing the prospect of having to end a career that anybody could have been proud of to this point."
The arrest of Peter Greste and his colleagues sparked international outrage, with politicians and journalists from all over the globe condemning their often farcical trial and harsh sentences.
Using the hashtag #FreeAJStaff, Al Jazeera Media Network galvanized a social media campaign aimed at pressuring the Egyptian government to honor press freedoms and release the journalists.
On the day of the sentencing, hundreds of BBC reporters staged a walkout from their offices in solidarity. Other international journalists observed a moment of silence and tweeted words of support for their peers, as well as disdain for Egypt’s disregard for press freedom.
Amid the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, deposed President Mohamed Morsi — who was removed by the military in a coup last year — and hundreds of other Brotherhood members remain jailed. Some face death sentences on various charges related to allegations of terrorism and violence that occurred during deadly street clashes that followed Morsi's ouster.