TIMEP Condemns Storming of the Egyptian Press Syndicate and Arrest of Two Journalists

05/02/2016 . By TIMEP

UPDATE: On Saturday, March 25, Qasr al-Nil Misdemeanor Court ruled to reduce the two-year prison sentences of Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists head Yehia Qallash and senior board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim to a suspended one-year term. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy notes the reduced sentence, but continues to condemn the charges against Qallash and his codefendants as part of the Egyptian government’s sustained crackdown on journalists.

UPDATE: On Saturday November 19, the head of the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists, Yehia Qallash and senior board members, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim, were sentenced to two years in prison, in absentia, for harboring fugitives inside the syndicate’s headquarters. The court has set bail at LE10,000 (about $615) for Qallash and his co-defendants pending an appeal. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) condemns these sentences and calls on the Egyptian government to drop these charges and support the critical role journalists play within civil society.

UPDATE: On Sunday May 29, the head of the Egyptian Syndicate of Journalists, Yehia Qallash, and senior board members, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim, were detained. The men had been called in for questioning on charges related to the storming of the press syndicate earlier this month, and they now face charges of “harboring suspects against whom an arrest warrant has been issued” and “publishing false news, which threatens public peace, related to their arrest.”  During questioning, the three men were denied their rights to counsel. Although the men have since been released on bail, they have been referred to trial.

The detentions and interrogations occur on the heels of Egyptian authorities’ forced entry into the syndicate on May 1 to apprehend journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka and the syndicate’s activism in response, which demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and the release of all detained and imprisoned journalists.

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) condemns these detentions, interrogations, and trial and expresses its solidarity with the Egyptian press. TIMEP continues to call for the immediate release of Badr, al-Sakka, and all persons wrongfully held for exercising their rights to freedom of expression. TIMEP reiterates its rejection of the escalating and continuing crackdown on the country’s independent voices.

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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) condemns the actions taken by Egyptian security forces on Sunday to arrest two journalists staging a sit-in at the Egyptian Press Syndicate in Cairo.

On Sunday evening, approximately 50 security personnel arrived unannounced to the Press Syndicate building to execute arrest warrants for journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka. Badr and al-Sakka had staged a sit-in to protest warrants for their arrest and raids on their homes last month, when hundreds of Egyptians were detained as their homes were searched ahead of demonstrations planned for April 25 protesting the transfer of Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. Yehia Qallash, the chairman of the syndicate, described the move as “unprecedented.”

Beyond the basic violations at hand, Sunday’s arrests and forced entry—which occurred just one day before World Press Freedom Day—reflect the current regime’s disregard for the critical role that journalists play in society.

“The authorities’ actions on Sunday mark an alarming escalation in the Egyptian government’s continued crackdown on civil society and human rights,” said TIMEP Executive Director Nancy Okail. “Sunday’s events not only constitute violations of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and the press as guaranteed by the 2014 Constitution, but pave the way for greater instability during a particularly volatile time.”

These events are only the latest in a highly concerning trend of repression by the government, which has recently apprehended activists from their homes, violently dispersed peaceful protests, and taken measures to reopen the infamous “foreign funding” NGO trial.

As the assault on journalism and civil society at large continues to intensify, institutional spaces for Egyptian government accountability will continue to vanish. Without any room for peaceful citizen engagement, the government endangers its own long-term stability, fostering an oppressive environment and stampeding the rights of yet another segment of society.

In September 2015, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi boasted that Egypt is seeing “unprecedented media freedom”. However, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt ranked second only to China in the number of jailed journalists around the world. The Egyptian authorities jailed 23 journalists in 2015, up from 12 in 2014. Notable writers Ismail Alexandrani and Hisham Gaafar have faced accusations related to their reporting, and photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid (a.k.a. Shawkan) has been in pretrial detention for nearly three years. In February 2016, the freedom committee in the Press Syndicate claimed that the government committed 782 violations of press in 2015.

TIMEP expresses its solidarity with the Egyptian press; calls for the immediate release of Badr, al-Sakka, and all persons wrongfully held for exercising their rights to expression; and reiterates its rejection of the escalating and continuing crackdown on the country’s independent voices.

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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.