Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Police raid Journalists' Syndicate, arrest 2 journalists

Committee to Protect Journalists
Egypt police raid Journalists' Syndicate, arrest two journalists

May 2, 2016

Egyptian authorities should immediately release Amr Badr, Mahmoud al-Sakka, and all journalists jailed for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Police on Sunday raided the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo, where the two were staging a sit-in protest, and arrested them, according to their employer and news reports. Today prosecutors ordered the journalists detained for 15 days of investigation on charges of "spreading false news," "endangering national security," and "organizing illegal protests," according to news reports.

Badr, the editor of the news website Yanair, which is often critical of the government, and al-Sakka, another editor for the website, had taken refuge inside the Journalists' Syndicate on Saturday and were staging a sit-in protest. About 50 policemen in civilian clothes stormed the syndicate Sunday night, assaulted its private security officers, and broke furniture in the lobby, while arresting the two, Journalists' Syndicate President Yehia Qallash told CBC TV.

Qallash called the raid "unprecedented" and "illegal," and called on Minister of Interior Magdal Abdel Ghaffar to resign.

"Authorities in Egypt are abandoning all restraint in their efforts to intimidate and silence the press," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington.

"Egypt's government should open an immediate investigation into this violent raid, immediately release Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, and stop persecuting journalists for doing their jobs."

In a statement published on its Facebook page today, the Interior Ministry denied using any kind of force in the arrest, saying the journalists peacefully turned themselves in to eight police officers at the syndicate, and that that police had followed the law in implementing an arrest warrant.

In a statement published on Yanair today, Badr said, via his lawyers, that authorities were targeting him and al-Sakka for their criticism of the government, including its recent decision to give Saudi Arabia control of two Red Sea islands. According to news reports, the two had been hiding, fearing arrest, since at least April 22, when police raided their homes before dawn.

Al-Sakka had previously been arrested in December 2015, on charges of belonging to an illegal group and planning illegal protests on the fifth anniversary of the January 25, 2011, uprising that led former President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Authorities ordered al-Sakka released in March, according to reports.

His arrest on Sunday follows revived protests, in which dozens of journalists have been detained, according to CPJ research. On Thursday journalists marched to the general prosecutor's office in central Cairo to protest the escalated crackdown on the press. Journalists gathered again today to protest the storming of the syndicate and the arrest of their colleagues, according to media reports.

Egypt was the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide on December 1, 2015, according to CPJ's prison census.

*Photo by Mohammed Abdel Ghany, courtesy of REUTERS


Reporters Without Borders/RSF 
RSF condemns arrests during police raid on Journalists’ Syndicate

May 3, 2016

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the police raid on the Cairo headquarters of the Journalists’ Syndicate on 1 May and calls for the immediate release of the two journalists who were unjustly detained in the operation.
The raid reinforced the climate of terror for media personnel in Egypt on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated today.

Journalists’ Syndicate president Yahia Qallash said around 50 plainclothes policemen stormed into the syndicate’s headquarters on the evening of 1 May to arrest the two journalists, who had been staging a sit-in inside in protest against warrants for their arrest and searches of their homes.

They are Amr Badr, the founder and editor-in-chief of the opposition news website Yanair (January), and Mahmoud El-Sakka, a journalist who works for the site.

In response to this “unprecedented” raid on the Journalists’ Syndicate, its members have been protesting inside its headquarters and on social networks to demand the release of the journalists and the interior minister’s resignation.

The NGO Journalists Against Torture has announced a 24-hour strike in solidarity with the Syndicate, which convened a general assembly for tomorrow and announced a permanent sit-in inside until the meeting.

“We condemn this raid on the headquarters of the Journalists’ Syndicate and we call on the authorities to intervene to obtain the immediate release of these journalists and the withdrawal of the charges against them,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Journalists have no place being in prison, especially when all they did was criticize the government.”

According to the Syndicate’s charter, a member of the prosecutor-general’s office must know and the president of the Syndicate or his representative must be present when the police enter its headquarters.

The interior ministry issued a statement denying that the police stormed the building or that violence was used. It said the two journalists were arrested without use of force, as a result of a decision by the prosecutor’s office and in coordination with the head of security at the Syndicate.

The charges against the two journalists include spreading false rumours about Egypt’s decision to return two small islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia and inciting protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.

The police prevented the holding of a conference inside the Syndicate’s headquarters on 1 May to mark Labour Day. They also prevented many journalists and demonstrators from entering the building on 25 April, when a series of demonstrations throughout Cairo were quickly dispersed and dozens of journalists who had gone to cover them were detained for several hours.

The Journalists’ Syndicate filed a complaint against the interior ministry about the abuses against journalists during the 25 April demonstrations.

Sakka, one of the two journalists arrested on 1 May, was previously arrested on 30 December on various charges including membership of an illegal group. He was released at the start of March pending the outcome of the investigation.

Currently the world’s fourth biggest prison for journalists (after China, Eritrea and Iran), Egypt is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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