Egyptian journalists outraged after latest government assault on media

Egyptian journalists outraged after latest government assault on media
Egyptian media have held protests and called for the resignation of the interior minister, following a police raid on a press syndicate office and the arrest of two journalists.
3 min read
Members of Egypt's journalists' syndicate held a sit-in at its  Cairo headquarters on Monday, to protest against the police detention of two journalists on its premises the night before.

After an emergency meeting in the early hours of the morning, the group called for the "open-ended" sit-in to run through a Wednesday general assembly meeting and World Press Freedom day on 3 May.

Protesters also called for the dismissal of Egypt's Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar.

Later on Monday morning, dozens gathered at the steps of the building. The crowd shouted "journalists are not terrorists" and said they were planning a larger demonstration on Monday afternoon.

They described the raid by security forces as "blatant barbarism and aggression" and said they were surprised by the latests arrests.

Some syndicate members have said the raid was heavy-handed, involving dozens of officers and resulted in a security guard being injured.

Police denied they entered the building by force and said only eight officers were involved. These police were acting on an arrest warrant for the two journalists, Cairo said, who had been accused of organising protests to "destabilise the country".

Unauthorised demonstrations are banned in Egypt, and demonstrators subject to arrest.

"The ministry of interior affirms that it did not raid the syndicate or use any kind of force in arresting the two, who turned themselves in as soon as they were told of the arrest warrant," the ministry said in a statement.

The two journalists - Amr Badr and Mahmoud el-Sakka - are government critics who work for a website known as January Gate, which is also critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government. 

Police - backed by army troops - on Monday had initially barricaded the entire area and prevented people from approaching the building, but they eventually lifted the blockade.

Still hundreds of uniformed and undercover police were deployed across central Cairo in order to prevent any protests.

A day earlier, police prevented hundreds of workers from holding a meeting at the building to commemorate International Workers' Day.

This prompted independent trade union leaders to urge the government to allow them freedom of assembly.

The syndicate has invited the trade union leaders to join the sit-in to denounce the "raid" and protest restrictions on freedom of assembly for labor organisers.

It said the move was illegal and violated its charter, which forbids police from entering the building without the presence of a syndicate official. It also urged police to end their "siege" on the building and to not hinder journalists from entering.

The journalists' syndicate has been a rallying point for demonstrations in the past, and was blocked in a similar manner ahead of planned anti-government protests last Monday.

The building drew particular attention because it was from there that some 2,000 demonstrators gathered last month to protest Sisi's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Police fired tear gas and arrested dozens to break up the protests, the first significant wave of street demonstrations since the former army chief became president in 2014.