In its first official statement since the election of its new president, the Press Syndicate—now led by Abdel Mohsen Salama—announced Sunday that it demands investigations into the violations committed by the Ministry of Interior when it stormed the syndicate on 1 May 2016.
In a statement, the syndicate said it will address the general prosecutor to take action regarding reports filed on 28 April and 4 May 2016 against Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and the Cairo security chief concerning the harassment of journalists and preventing them from accessing the syndicate.
The statement, which followed an urgent board meeting, asserted solidarity with former syndicate leader Yehia Qallash, former deputy president and head of the Freedoms’ Committee Khaled El-Balshy, and current board member Gamal Abdel Reheem.
A Cairo misdemeanours appeals court upheld the trio’s conviction on charges of harbouring wanted suspects, although reducing their sentence from two years to one year. The so-called suspects were journalists arrested during the police raid on the syndicate.
“With all due respect to the judiciary, the syndicate fully supports the three colleagues and will provide them with full legal assistance,” the syndicate stated.
The meeting decided to form a committee of legal experts to follow up on the case before the Cassation Court.
According to El-Balshy’s comments following the verdict on Saturday, the syndicate’s case reflects a long struggle between security and press freedom.
In March, before the election of Salama and six board members, the syndicate’s general assembly approved and passed an assessment of the situation of press freedom from March 2016 to February 2017.
The report was issued on the occasion of the syndicate’s Silver Jubilee, therefore covering a wide range of the syndicate’s activities and general assemblies. It looked over legislations and practices in relations to press freedom.
For instance, it warned against using the terrorism narrative in order to suppress freedoms of opinion, thought, expression, and press. It also advocated against not differentiating between incitement to terrorism and political criticism, for example demanding amendments to the terrorism law, which contained vague definitions of crimes of terrorism.
It reviewed the syndicate’s efforts in combating violations against journalists, including police arrests and detention in unknown locations, the government’s exclusion of the press community from drafting press and media laws, the assaults on journalists during their coverage of the different events related to the Red Sea islands protests, and the targeting of journalists through unfounded police reports, as well as arbitrary arrests.
After the syndicate’s storming, fed-up journalists demanded the resignation of the interior minister. At the same time, the syndicate accused the ministry of fabricating information regarding the incident to make it look as if it was a legal action and to portray to the public opinion that the syndicate wanted to be above the law.
To date, journalists remain behind bars. The syndicate’s report demanded the release of 29 journalists, including some who are not members of the syndicate. Moreover, the legal prosecution of journalists in crimes of publishing continues to be a tool used by different state institutions.
This comes as nine local NGOs also issued a statement on Monday condemning the sentencing of the syndicate leaders, considering it one of the regime’s oppressive practices in the public sphere.