At least two journalists are being investigated by the prosecution for violating the Protest Law because of a demonstration held outside the Press Syndicate earlier this month.
Among those being investigated are political activist and journalist Rasha Azab and Khaled ElBalshy, a board member at the Press Syndicate and the Editor-in-Chief of private Al-Bedaiah news service, who said he said what he was only present in the press conference held inside the syndicate.
ElBalshy said he had not been summoned yet but learned that he will likely be soon and that Azab already has been. She could not be reached for confirmation.
The conference was organised on 12 June, one day after the sentencing of renowned blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others to prison for violating the Protest Law, to show solidarity with the defendants. It was followed by a demonstration held on the steps of the syndicate building. ElBalshy said: “The steps are part of the syndicate. The only body that should allow a protest to be organised on the steps is the syndicate,” highlighting what he believes is “ironic”.
The Press Syndicate’s lawyer, Sayed Abu Zeid, said he was aware that Azab and ElBalshy were being investigated for “protesting without a permit” but that “we are holding on to the right” stipulated in the Press Syndicate’s laws, that a journalist cannot be summoned to investigations directly from their home or place of work. Journalists can only be summoned through the syndicate, the law states. Abu Zeid added that once the syndicate is approached for this investigation, he will notify Azab and ElBalshy and accompany them to the investigations.
On 11 June, Abdel Fattah and the 24 other defendants were sentenced to 15 years in absentia by a Cairo court and fined EGP 100,000. They were ordered to be put under observation for an additional five years. The verdict has received widespread condemnation from groups inside and outside Egypt. Amnesty International described it as an “outrageous travesty against justice”.
Co-founder of El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture Magda Adly, who attended the conference, said there was nothing unusual about it. She said people just expressed their surprise at the verdict and described it as “harsh”. She did, however, learn that some of the people outside were beaten by people in civilian clothes and some were arrested.
The infamous Protest Law was issued by former interim President Adly Mansour on 24 November and has received hefty criticism from both local and domestic rights organisations and political parties in Egypt. Many arrests have been made since the introduction of the law and many people, including several prominent political activists, the latest of whom is Abdel Fattah.
Last Tuesday, the Administrative Court allowed the appeal of the controversial Protest Law before the Supreme Constitutional Court.