Tens gather at the Press Syndicate on May 30, 2016 to protest the detention of its head. ASWATMASRIYA
CAIRO, May 30 (Aswat Masriya) – Amnesty International called the arrest of the Egyptian Press Syndicate's head and two board members on Sunday "an alarming setback for freedom of expression."
Head of the Press Syndicate Yahia Qallash and senior board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abd al-Reheem were summoned by Egyptian prosecution on Sunday over the high-profile arrest of two journalists from inside the syndicate earlier this month.
On May 1, security forces raided the syndicate’s building to arrest two journalists accused of “inciting protests” against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to hand over control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
The two journalists, Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Saqqa, had been at the syndicate’s headquarters when police arrested them. They both work for the Yanayir Gate news website.
On its part, the interior ministry denied in a statement that security forces had stormed the building or used any kind of force.
Amnesty described the storming of the syndicate as "the most brazen attack on the media the country witnessed in decades" and called on authorities to drop charges against the two journalists and investigate the circumstances of the raid in a statement on Monday.
Qallash, Balshy and Abd al-Reheem were questioned for almost 12 hours over "sheltering" Badr and Saqqa at the syndicate, which the prosecution termed as "harbouring fugitives".
The three were ordered to be released on Monday on bail of EGP 10,000, but they refused to pay the bail, according to their lawyer.
“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.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged the Egyptian authorities to drop the "outrageous" charges against the Press Syndicate leaders, and 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" regarding the escalating attack against the Press Syndicate and the "deterioration of press freedom in Egypt."
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last December that Egypt is second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2015.
Amnesty said that at least 20 journalists are currently behind bars, citing the Press Syndicate.