CAIRO—Amnesty International called the recent arrest of Egyptian Press Syndicate members "an alarming setback for freedom of expression."
Egyptian prosecution summoned Press Syndicate leader Yahia Qallash with senior board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abd al-Reheem for questioning following the high-profile arrest of two journalists inside the Syndicate earlier this month. On May 1 security forces raided the building and arrested the journalists, who had been accused of “inciting protests” against the President’s recent decision to give control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The two journalists, Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Saqqa, work for the news website Yanayir Gate.
While the Interior Ministry released an earlier statement that denied storming the building and using force, Amnesty International expressed its dismay at the event. In the statement released today, Amnesty described it as "the most brazen attack on the media [that] the country witnessed in decades." The organization furthermore called on authorities to drop the charges against the journalists and to investigate the circumstances of the raid.
Qallash, al-Balshy, and Abd al-Reheem were questioned for nearly 12 hours apropos “sheltering” Badr and al-Saqqa at the Syndicate. The prosecution accused the men of harboring fugitives.
While the Syndicate leaders were set for release today on bail of EGP 10,000 each, their lawyer reported that they would not post it. “The arrest of key media figures at the Press Syndicate signals a dangerous escalation of the Egyptian authorities’ draconian clampdown on freedom of expression and demonstrates the extreme measures the authorities are prepared to take in order to tighten their iron grip on power,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the MENA Program at Amnesty International.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged Egyptian authorities to drop the "outrageous" charges against the Press Syndicate leaders. Their statement added that "falsely accusing press freedom defenders, charging them and sending them to prison can only happen in an oppressive police state and Egypt is behaving like one." Similarly, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) expressed its "utmost concern" for the escalating attack against the Press Syndicate and the "deterioration of press freedom in Egypt."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that as of last December, Egypt was second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists. According to the Amnesty International’s report of the Press Syndicate, at least 20 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt for their legitimate work.
A version of this article was originally published in Aswat Masriya.