They were detained at Cairo’s Qasr El-Nil police station on the night of 29 May, interrogated for nearly 13 hours and finally released provisionally last night after someone paid their bail.
“We are deeply disturbed by the judicial proceedings being brought against these three leaders of the Journalists Syndicate,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“The crisis surrounding the Journalists Syndicate shows that the regime is stopping at nothing in its campaign to intimidate the media. We call on the judicial authorities to drop the charges against the Syndicate’s leaders and to release the two journalists who were arrested at the Syndicate’s headquarters on 1 May.”
The three leaders were accused of harbouring persons wanted by the authorities after the police stormed into the Syndicate’s headquarters on 1 May to arrest two journalists with the opposition website Yanair, Mahmoud Saqqa and Amr Badr, who had been staging a sit-in inside.
The three were also initially accused of “publishing false information with the aim of endangering public order,” but this charge was dropped.
One of El-Balshy’s lawyers, Karim Abdel Rady, told RSF: “The latest events are indicative of a desire to intimidate and silence journalists, while at the same time making it very clear that no one is safe from being imprisoned or prosecuted.” He added that the authorities also wanted to undermine the Syndicate’s attempts to resist the interior ministry’s offensive against media freedom.
These three Syndicate leaders could have been released earlier yesterday pending the outcome of the investigation but each of them refused to pay the requested bail amount of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (1,000 euros). As a result, they remained in detention until the prosecutor reached a decision.
Meanwhile, the two journalists arrested on 1 May were placed in pre-trial detention the following day and since then their detention orders have been repeatedly renewed.
Ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt is the world’s fourth biggest prison for journalists, after China, Eritrea and Iran.