The Qasr El-Nil Misdemeanours Court decided on Saturday to postpone to 25 March the issuing of a verdict against Press Syndicate president Yehia Qallash, secretary-general Gamal Abdel Reheem, and head of the Freedoms Committee Khaled El-Balshy.
Legally, the trio was sentenced in November to two years in prison with a bail of EGP 10,000 each, on charges of harbouring two wanted suspects.
El-Balshy was present at the Press Syndicate on Saturday morning. After hearing the court order, he commented to journalists that although he had been expecting to be jailed, he will deal with the current situation as it is.
El-Balshy is running for the syndicate’s elections in early March—before the scheduled verdict date—for a position in the syndicate’s board members’ council, of which he is currently a member.
“We will continue our battle to defend the rights of journalists,” he told reporters Saturday.
However, journalists and press freedom defenders have argued that the case has a political dimension of the case stemming from a negative state approach towards freedom of the press, amid a general security crackdown on freedom of speech and expression especially since the syndicate witnessed large protests in April in objection to the Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation agreement of two Red Sea islands.
As so, the press syndicate case was considered to be a historical unprecedented assault on the press, beginning with the police raid on the syndicate under the pretext of arresting journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud El-Saqa, wanted for accusations of incitement against state institutions. The two had decried the maritime demarcation agreement as well.
Although legal procedures would have required coordination with the syndicate over the two journalists’ situation, on 1 May, police forces stormed the syndicate. Not only was the raid one of its kind in the history of the Egyptian press, but so was the trial of its leaders.
Despite a united stance among journalists at the beginning of the crisis, with large assemblies held at the syndicate and condemning headlines demanding the dismissal of the Minister of Interior, the case developed with the division of journalists as several pro-state national and private newspapers and media turned against the syndicate and supported the state narrative.
That is the scene currently marking the upcoming elections of the president of the Syndicate and board members, which seem to be definitive in shaping the future of the syndicate and journalism as a profession in Egypt.