Despite restrictions on mobility and security forces and pro-government demonstrators’ harassment, Egypt’s Press Syndicate held a historic general assembly on Wednesday to denounce the Egyptian government’s reaction to the storming of the country’s “castle of freedom”.
On the steps of the syndicate, while the assembly convened inside, protesters chanted in support of press freedom, Press Syndicate President Yahia Qalash, and Egyptian nationalism.
When the general assembly concluded, Qalash emerged to address what he called the “biggest gathering of Egyptian journalists since the syndicate’s formation.”
In his address, Qalash delivered a series of injunctions against the Egyptian state, which include: the continued demand for the interior minister’s dismissal, until which time his image and name will not be published; an apology from the Egyptian presidency and cabinet; the refusal to publish statements from the Ministry of Interior; the redaction of the front page of Sunday newspapers; a public conference on Tuesday to decide on a possible strike; the release of all imprisoned journalists; the refusal of all charges against the syndicate’s head; an end to the media gag in the case of the two arrested journalists; the publication of the interior minister’s image in negative form; the issuance of legislation to prohibit the arrest of journalists in cases related to publishing.
“They wanted to seize the syndicate, but they were disappointed, for who can surround decades of freedom? This gathering is not only for press freedom, but for the freedom of the Egyptian people, who have taught us much about freedom,” Qalash stated. “No matter how many thugs and checkpoints they deploy, the syndicate will remain the castle of freedom.”
“We are here today to protect the syndicate and to deliver that message,” he said. “If the message is not understood, we are doomed.”
Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of journalists gathered in the streets leading to the syndicate’s headquarters, only to be met by riot police who prevented them from entering with threats of arrest.
However, private buses arrived nearby carrying pro-government demonstrators who held images of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and chanted against syndicate members. A Daily News Egypt correspondent reported that police instigated clashes between the two groups by allowing the pro-government protesters into the area around the syndicate. Assaulting and calling the journalists traitors, the pro-government demonstrators continued to praise the police and called upon Al-Sisi to “crush journalists”.
In another confrontation, dozens of journalists who had been behind the police barricade for two hours were able to circumvent security forces when a group of lawyers arrived in solidarity. Following this breach, Daily News Egypt saw Special Forces troops encircle the protesters.
Four journalists were arrested following the general assembly. There has been no information provided about their whereabouts.
On Tuesday, Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek ordered a media gag to restrict press commentary on the arrest of Yanair Gate’s editor-in-chief Amr Badr and journalist Mahmoud Al-Saqa during the security raid of the syndicate.
A day after the arrests, the prosecution issued a statement declaring the detention of the journalists and the breach of the syndicate were pursuant to a search and arrest warrant issued by the prosecution.
“The case procedures were ordered by the Ministry of Interior and the journalists face criminal charges that are not related to their work,” the prosecution stated.
Journalists responded to the prosecution’s statement, claiming it legitimised the arrest on charges of publishing false news, a charge journalists condemn.
A police force of at least 40 officers stormed the syndicate’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on Sunday night and arrested Badr and Al-Saqa.
The incident enraged Egyptian journalists who immediately called for the interior minister’s resignation. Qalash was among the first to call for the minister to step down.