Unconditional support for Egyptian journalists against the flagrant assault on freedom of expression…
On Mayday, with World Press Freedom Day only hours away, security forces from the Egyptian Interior Ministry stormed the offices of the Press Syndicate in Cairo and arrested two syndicate members, participating in a sit-in, on charges which included attempting to overthrow the Sisi regime. The arrests came at the climax of a series of public protests against the Egyptian government’s decision to cede two islands in the Red Sea—Tiran and Sanafir —to Saudi Arabia.
Syndicate officials say that the Interior Ministry’s action is unprecedented in the union’s 75 year history. “No president or prime minister or interior minister has ever dared to do something like this,” according to Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the syndicate board. Kamel says that the law prohibits anyone but a prosecutor to search the building, and then only in the presence of the syndicate’s chairman or deputy.
Kamel claims that over 40 police raided the building, which has become a popular location for protests and demonstrations. In a statement, the interior ministry said its force consisted of only eight officers. The ministry claims that it did not actually raid the union or use any kind of force in arresting the journalists who, said the statement, “handed themselves in as soon as they were told there was an arrest warrant.”
The union’s position is that sufficient force was used to injure one of the building’s own guards. It was a raid. “There was an arrest warrant for the two journalists,” Kamel says, “issued a week ago but the syndicate was negotiating with the interior ministry over the matter.”
Following the arrests, dozens of journalists staged another sit-in at the syndicate offices, while Egypt’s top prosecutor won a gag order on Tuesday, 3 May, to enforce press silence on the subject of the arrests. This was, of course, World Press Freedom Day.
On the next day, around 2,000 journalists rallied at the syndicate offices to protest the police action, chanting “journalism is not a crime.” The union also called on all Egyptian newspapers to display a logo that reads “no for gag…no for silencing,” a reference to the gag order. The union also published a joint statement, signed by 19 local and regional rights groups, including Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
The statement set out the details of the arrests and declared “full solidarity and unconditional support for journalists, the board of the journalists’ syndicate, and its general assembly, against the flagrant assault on freedom of expression and attempts to ‘nationalize’ press freedom and intimidate and repress journalists.” The full text is available on the IFEX website and on the website of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
A report in Al Ahram, a leading Egyptian newspaper and website, on Wednesday, 4 May, says that Egypt’s press syndicate is giving the government one week’s notice to meet its demands before a journalists’ strike is called. The demands include the sacking of the interior minister, the release of all journalists jailed in cases involving freedom of expression and an official apology from the presidency for the storming of the union’s HQ. The syndicate’s general assembly meeting also agreed to take “legal measures” against the arrests and called for the introduction of a law protecting journalists from assaults by state officials.
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