CAIRO: Around 400 people took to the streets to support the editors in chief of four independent newspapers who were handed jail terms for insulting President Mubarak and other National Democratic Party (NDP) members.
Responding to a call by the Kefaya Movement for Change, protestors representing a wide range of political parties and currents including Al Ghad party, the Islamist-leaning Labor Party, The Revolutionary Socialists, The Democratic Front party and members of Al Tagammu party gathered Downtown.
The protest, which was scheduled to show solidarity to the editors in chief, also stood in support of Al Mahalla workers whose strike has entered its 6th day.
Plainclothed and uniformed police forces were heavily present in the Downtown area, banning anyone from standing or gathering in Talaat Harb square where the protest was supposed to take place. Daily News Egypt saw more than 20 security vans carrying riot police in the area.
Protestors, who usually take shelter at the steps of the Press Syndicate when the police ban them from gathering, headed there silently in groups of threes and fours.
Four people were briefly arrested and questioned which led the protestors to stay in a sit-in on the Syndicate s stairs until the four were released.
“The police was stopping potential protestors walking in the street towards Talaat Harb square, asking them to show their ID and searching their bags,” said Jano Charbel, one of the four people who were arrested.
“They pushed people around and told us that there s no protest. They were going to arrest a friend of ours called Ayman Farag but we were able to pull him away and leave,” said Salma Fathy, referring to their attempt to start the protest in Talaat Harb square.
Police sealed off the street to Al Tagammu Party’s headquarters, very close to the square. Police also sealed off the entrance of the building where Al Ghad Party is located, refusing to let the people who were inside out, effectively trapping them there until the protest at the Press Syndicate was over.
“They wouldn’t let us out to stop us from joining the protestors at the Press Syndicate. They didn’t want the protest to look big,” one woman who was trapped at Al Ghad Party’s headquarters told Daily News Egypt.
Taking advantage of the party s strategic location overlooking the square, Al Ghad members decided to have a protest on the balcony, using loudspeakers to shout their chants.
Protestors carried posters condemning the sentencing of the four editors in chief and in support for free press. ‘Free press = a free country’ one poster read.
One protestor, dressed as an inmate, was carrying a piece of paper which read “I m a journalist.”
“The government didn t need to sentence the editors in chief. This made it look bad inside and outside the country,” said Ahmed Seif El Islam, head of the Hesham Mubarak Law Center for human rights.
Abdel Halim Qandeel, one of the four convicted editors, thought the government had nothing to offer so it had to resort to using security to prove that it s powerful.
The four editors-in-chief may not be the last ones convicted for publishing offences.
A lawyer affiliated with the NDP sued Dr Mohamed El Sayed Said, the editor of Al Badeel independent newspaper, for defamation because Dr Said had written that this lawyer, who had sued the other editors-in-chief, is affiliated with the ruling party and is not working independently.