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Egypt journalist union leaders to face trial

May 31, 2016

Three leading figures in Egypt’s journalists’ union will stand trial for allegedly harbouring fugitive colleagues, a lawyer and prosecution officials said, amid condemnation from rights groups.

The case follows an unprecedented raid on the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate on May 1 by police who arrested two reporters from an opposition website holding a sit-in inside.

The Union’s chief Yahiya Kallash, its secretary general Gamal Abd el-Rahim and freedoms committee head Khaled Elbalshy have been charged with aiding wanted fugitives, Elbalshy’s lawyer said Tuesday.

The three, who were released late Monday after more than 24 hours in detention, are also under investigation for “publishing false news,” Karim Abdelrady said.

The first trial hearing is scheduled for Saturday, according to the lawyer and prosecution officials who requested anonymity.

“The message is that no one is too big to be detained, nor too big to be silenced,” Abdelrady said.

Rights activists accuse President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of running an ultra-authoritarian regime that has violently suppressed all opposition since toppling Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Amnesty International denounced the arrests of leading union figures as “the most brazen attack on the media the country witnessed in decades.”

The case “signals a dangerous escalation of the Egyptian authorities’ draconian clampdown on freedom of expression,” said Amnesty’s Magdalena Mughrabi.

The two detained reporters for opposition website Babawet Yanayer, Amr Badr and Mahmud al-Sakka, are accused of incitement to protest in violation of the law.

Union chief Kallash had denounced their arrests, telling a news conference earlier this month that Sisi’s government was “escalating the war against journalism and journalists”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.