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Egypt journalist union leaders to stand trial

May 31, 2016

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

Egyptian Journalists Syndicate president Yahiya Kallash, secretary general Gamal Abd el-Rahim and freedoms committee chief Khaled Elbalshy were charged with aiding fugitives after two reporters sought by police staged a sit-in at the union’s offices, 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.

The EU said the indictments of the union members was “a worrying development”.

“It reflects broader limitations on freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt,” an EU spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Rights activists accuse Egyptian 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.

In an unprecedented crackdown on the press, police on May 1 raided the journalists syndicate to arrest two reporters for opposition website Babawet Yanayer, Amr Badr and Mahmud al-Sakka, who are accused of inciting demonstrations.

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”.

Reacting to Kallash’s arrest Monday, Amnesty International accused the authorities of “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.

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