The Press Syndicate case is not related to freedom of speech, as it is a criminal case about the harbouring of suspects in violation of the law, said President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in his first comment on the crisis that erupted on 1 May between journalists and security forces.
“[The defendants in the case] didn’t go to trial for being a journalist or expressing opinions. It is important that you understand that this is a criminal case and that Egypt holds nobody accountable for expressing their opinion,” Al-Sisi told Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP) during his visit to Lisbon this week.
Al-Sisi asserted that he supports freedom of expression. “Look at the press and media in Egypt and you will find that people talk as they please. It is true,” the president said in the interview, broadcast in Arabic by Egyptian state TV on Tuesday night.
The syndicate crisis began with the police raid on 1 May, followed by the prosecution of its president and two board members—who on Saturday were sentenced to two years in prison and a release on bail. Following the syndicate’s breach, protests went on for days as journalists put out a set of demands, which included unseating the minister of interior. Yet, the events were ignored by Al-Sisi, even though he gave a public speech on 5 May.
Al-Sisi was also asked about the prosecution of political opposition members and prisoners of conscience. RTP’s presenter inquired about the number of such detainees reported by different human rights groups, estimated between 22,000 and 40,000.
Al-Sisi discredited the numbers, saying that even 5,000 would be an exaggeration. “Last week, we issued pardons for 82 prisoners through the Detained Youth Committee, and the total number of names being reviewed won’t exceed 500 prisoners,” he said.
Al-Sisi denied that an emergency law was being imposed in Egypt or that his government works outside of the confines of the law.
The president was also asked about claims that torture is taking place in detention centres, specifically reports that prisoners are being tortured at the Scorpion prison, to which he answered: “There is no room for torture, it is not allowed and if it happens there is legal accountability for it.”
Concluding on the issue of democracy and freedoms, Al-Sisi said: “There is no room for dictatorship in Egypt anymore, there will be a transition of political power. This is what Egyptians chose, [and it is] one of the achievements of the revolution.”
Reports on Egypt by local and international human rights organisations contradict Al-Sisi’s claims by revealing torture cases, censorship, the repression of freedoms, and the imprisonment of political opponents. This also comes amid increasing police violence towards citizens both inside and outside detention facilities.