Egypt: Head of press syndicate detained in unprecedented crackdown on media freedom
The arrest today of the head of the Egyptian Press Syndicate and two colleagues is an alarming setback for freedom of expression and the most brazen attack on the media the country witnessed in decades, said Amnesty International.
Yahia Galash, head of Press Syndicate and senior board members Khaled Elbalshy and Gamal Abd el-Reheem were summoned for questioning on 29 May by the public prosecution. After 13 hours of questioning, the three men were charged with ‘harbouring suspects against whom an arrest warrant has been issued’ and ‘publishing false news, which threatens public peace, related to their arrest’. The prosecution ordered that the three men be put in custody, with bail set at 10,000 Egyptian pounds (USD$1,123), which they have refused to pay.
“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 Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
Successive Egyptian governments have attempted to control the media and impose restrictions on journalists but on 1 May up to 40 heavily armed members of the National Security agency stormed the Press Syndicate for the first time since it was established in 1941. They attacked journalists, beating security guards and detained two journalists Amro Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa. They are being held in Tora prison and have been charged with forming an illegal group with the aim of overthrowing the government, inciting protests and publishing false news, and belonging to the April 6 Movement, a leading youth group that was instrumental in organizing protests in 2011.
Days later on 4 May, thousands of journalists gathered outside the Syndicate to make a series of demands, including calling for the dismissal of Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, the release of detained and imprisoned journalists, as well as demanding further measures to strengthen the protection of journalists.
“By prosecuting senior members of the Press Syndicate the authorities are clearly attempting to punish them for speaking out against the government and to send a strong message to intimidate all journalists into silence. The authorities must immediately order their release and drop the charges against them,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
Under Egyptian law, permission from the Public Prosecutor is required in order to search the Press Syndicate premises and any search must be carried out in the presence of the head of the Syndicate or other senior management.
“The storming of the Press Syndicate earlier this month was unprecedented. It is the most brazen attack on the media the country has seen in decades. The Egyptian authorities appear to be prepared to breach their own laws in their chilling attempt to crush all signs of dissent,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
“The authorities must also drop charges against the two journalists who were detained at the Press Syndicate and investigate the circumstances of the raid.”
At least 20 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt imprisoned carrying out their legitimate journalistic work, according to the Egyptian Press Syndicate.
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