The Arab Observatory for Media Freedom (AOMF) expressly denounces the decision of the Egyptian public prosecutor to impose significant financial bail for the release of the journalists’ union chairman, deputy and general secretary, pending investigations into charges laid against them, accusing them of harboring wanted journalists in the union headquarters and publishing false news.
This is the first time in the history of the union that such a fine is imposed. Meanwhile, prosecutors did not question the officers who stormed the union headquarters, in violation of the law, on May 1. That also was the first time in the history of the union to be stormed by security forces.
AOMF stresses that forcing Yahya Qalash, journalists’ chairman; Khalid Albalshi, union undersecretary; and Gamal Abdel-Rahim, union secretary-general; to pay bail of 30,000 Egyptian Pounds ($3000) – for their release pending investigations – is a penalty that itself violates the law which prevents ‘remand in custody’ in press and publication cases. Consequently, the bail paid as an alternative to pre-trial detention is itself illegal. It represents a punishment in itself.
AOMF further stresses that the detention of the journalists’ union chairman, deputy and secretary-general for a long time, exceeding 14 hours, under the pretext of interrogation, and then holding them in a police station later, is a type of harassment and retaliation, a punishment for their role in mobilizing journalists at an emergency general assembly to protest against the storming by the police of the journalists syndicate HQ on May 1, and the arrest of two journalists who were waiting there until guarantees could be provided for the integrity of the investigation with them on charges of demonstrating without a license and the dissemination of false news about the demarcation of the Egyptian-Saudi border agreement.
AOMF believes that the ruling regime wanted to send a strong message to Egyptian journalists through this act: no dignity for a journalist, no immunity for a syndicate, no retreat from the prosecution, hounding and jailing of journalists, and that the journalistic community must accept the dictates and instructions of the regime, obey blindly, and withdraw its decisions and recommendations issued by the emergency general assembly on May 1, especially the demand for a presidential apology, dismissal of the interior minister and the release of imprisoned journalists.
AOMF also finds that the latest developments are part of a systematic campaign against the freedom of the press in Egypt that escalated recently with the storming of the union HQ and the jailing of a number of journalists – who joined a long list exceeding 90 journalists jailed by the coup regime, the banning of publication of articles by some writers and intellectuals, stopping certain programs and forcing TV channels to get rid of them, preparing for a new media law that enshrines state control over the media in a clear breach of the constitution, and finally hailing the journalists’ chairman, deputy and secretary-general to the public prosecutor’s office.
AOMF demands that all bodies and organizations concerned with freedom of the press locally and internationally to move quickly to save the Egyptian press from this vicious attack, which aims to take away all the democratic gains achieved over years of hard struggle, and use it as mere mouthpieces for the ruling regime.
AOMF further calls on the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of expression for urgent intervention to save the Egyptian press.
Arab Observatory for Media Freedom
Monday – May 30, 2016