Head of Egypt press syndicate interrogated, refuses to pay bail

The Egyptian Press Syndicate’s head and two of its board members were questioned Sunday by prosecutors over the high-profile arrest of two journalists at the syndicate’s headquarters early May, the defence lawyer announced Monday.

The three syndicate leaders, who were accused by prosecutors of harbouring fugitives and disseminating false news, refused to pay bail, their lawyer Sayed Abu Zeid added on Monday.

The crisis began on May 1 when security forces raided the syndicate’s building to arrest two journalists accused by the general prosecution 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 sitting in at the syndicate’s headquarters when police arrested them. They both work for the Yanayir Gate news website.

The interior ministry denied an allegation made by the syndicate in a statement that security forced had “stormed” the building, saying the two journalists Badr and Saqqa handed themselves over to the police once they were informed of a warrant issued for their arrest.

The crisis quickly escalated into a row between journalists and the interior ministry, when a number of journalists decided to stage a sit-in at the syndicate’s headquarters against what they believed to be an “unprecedented” assault by the police. The syndicate held an emergency meeting and demanded that the interior minister be sacked.

What seemed to be points scored by the journalists’ union saw a reverse recently when prosecutors summoned the syndicate’s head Yehia Qallash and two board members Khaled al-Balshi and Gamal Abdel Raheem to question them over “sheltering” Badr and Saqqa at the building.

After 12 hours of questioning, prosecutors ordered on Monday the release of the syndicate’s leaders on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (around $1,126) each, which they refuse to pay as yet, according to their lawyer.

“The head [of the syndicate] and the two [board] members are under arrest at the Qasr al-Nil police station until they appear in front of prosecutors again today, Monday, [where] their refusal to pay bail will be officially registered,” he said, adding that the prosecution will make a new decision about their fate.

Meanwhile, Badr’s and Saqqa’s pretrial detention was renewed on Sunday for another 15 days over charges that include inciting protests, attempting to overthrow the regime and publishing false news with the aim of disturbing public peace.

Egypt’s top prosecutor issued a gagging order for the case, banning media coverage of Badr’s and Saqqa’s arrest incident except for statements issued by the public prosecutor’s office, until the investigation has been completed.

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.

In a separate report, CLJ said in June 2015 that “journalists face unprecedented threats in President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt.”

Sisi ascended to the presidency when he won the 2014 presidential election with a sweeping majority. Prior to that, he was the country’s defence minister and he led the military ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group, following mass protests against Morsi’s rule.

Source: Aswat Masriya

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