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Egypt's Interior Ministry marks World Press Freedom Day by storming press syndicate

Journalists gesture in protest against the arrests of their peers during a news conference at the Egyptian press syndicate's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt May 3, 2016
Journalists gesture in protest against the arrests of their peers during a news conference at the Egyptian press syndicate's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt May 3, 2016

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

This is a joint statement signed by 19 local and regional rights groups including cihrs.org and afteegypt.org and published on 3 May 2016.

The undersigned organizations declare their full solidarity and unconditional support for journalists, the board of the journalists' syndicate, and its general assembly, against the flagrant assault on freedom of expression and attempts to 'nationalize' press freedom and intimidate and repress journalists. We declare our full condemnation of the unlawful security breach of the syndicate headquarters on Sunday, May 1, 2016, which has become a black day in the annals of the Egyptian press and the journalists' syndicate, unprecedented in the syndicate's 75-year history. The undersigned organizations join the syndicate in demanding the dismissal of the interior minister and the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt's prisons.

As the syndicate celebrates its 75th year anniversary and just a few hours before World Press Freedom Day, the Interior Ministry's security forces raided the press syndicate, claiming to be executing an arrest warrant issued by the Public Prosecution against journalists Amr Badr, the editor of the January online portal, and Mahmoud al-Saqqa, a journalist with the same outlet, in connection with a complaint filed after journalists who took part in protests against the ceding of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands.

The journalists face trumped-up charges of attempting to overthrow the regime and change the constitution and republican structure of the state; attempting to alter the nature of the government; joining a group, entity, or organization that aims to obstruct the state's constitutional law; obstructing state institutions and its authorities from carrying out their work; harming national unity, social peace, and inciting, in speech or writing, the commission of these acts, or inciting these acts through methods of publication and distribution, radio, press releases, and spreading lies with the objective of disturbing public security.

Following questioning yesterday, Monday, May 2, the prosecution remanded the journalists to custody for 15 days pending investigation.

More than 45 journalists, including foreign correspondents, have been arrested for doing their job in covering legitimate, peaceful protests, according to the syndicate's special operations room. Dozens have complained of assaults by security forces while in custody. Just days before Interior Ministry forces stormed the syndicate, the syndicate had lodged a complaint against the interior minister and the director of Cairo security documenting these assaults.

The raid is the latest in a series of arbitrary measures and orchestrated campaigns against journalists, from harassment on the job, to bans, suspensions, and confiscations of several issues of Egyptian newspapers on the order of sovereign bodies, to the detention of a large number of journalists in connection with their occupational duties.

The syndicate was raided in violation of Article 70 of the law regulating syndicate operations, which states, “The journalists' syndicate and its subsidiary syndicates may not be searched or put under seal except with the consent of a member of the Public Prosecution and in the presence of the chair of the journalists' syndicate or subsidiary syndicate or their representative.”

The raid is the latest in a series of arbitrary measures and orchestrated campaigns against journalists, from harassment on the job, to bans, suspensions, and confiscations of several issues of Egyptian newspapers on the order of sovereign bodies, to the detention of a large number of journalists in connection with their occupational duties.

Those detained include Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan), Ismail Iskander, Yusuf Sha'ban, and Omar 'Abd al-Maqsud. There has also been a recent spate of cases involving editors and journalists, who have been questioned by the Public Prosecution on charges such as spreading false news and insulting the judiciary, as well as a more frequent use of gag orders, issued by the public prosecutor or judicial bodies in an attempt to ensure security and executive control over the official narrative of events in Egypt and block independent journalism. This occurs in a context in which Egypt fell to 159th place (from 158) in the Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, and became the world's second highest jailer of journalists, after China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

All these incidents prompted the press syndicate to issue a statement affirming that freedom of the press in Egypt is at its lowest point in more than two years.

Just a few hours before the syndicate's general assembly is scheduled to meet, on the morning of May 4, the undersigned organizations affirm their full solidarity with Egyptian journalists. We demand that all those responsible for the storming of the syndicate be held accountable without delay, including the interior minister himself. The state must offer clear guarantees upholding freedom of the press and media and guaranteeing the right of freedom of expression and peaceful dissent, as enshrined in the Egyptian constitution and in compliance with international standards and conventions.

We also demand the immediate release of all journalists detained in connection with their professional duties and the dropping of all charges against them. The undersigned organizations urge all Egyptian professional syndicates, as well as journalists' syndicates, federations, and unions around the world, to support the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in decrying the assault, whose goal is to restrict journalistic freedom and gag and intimidate journalists.

Signatory organizations

1. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
3. National Community for Human Rights and Law
4. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
5. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
6. Journalists Against Torture
7. The Land Center for Human Rights
8. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
9. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
10. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
11. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
12. ADALAH Center for Rights & Freedoms “ACRF”
13. Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
14. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
15. Arab Penal Reform Organization
16. Alhaqanya Foundation of Rights and freedoms
17. The Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
18. Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance
19. Nazra for Feminist Studies

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