Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Squeezing press freedom

Journalists take steps to fight what they say is the increased pursuit by the authorities of the press community, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following a meeting on Monday between Press Syndicate Chairman Yehia Qallash and the board, and chief editors of local newspapers, Qallash said journalists rejected what was described as an attack on the freedom of the press by the government.

The meeting came in response to the increased pursuit by the authorities of the press establishment. Youm Sabea Editor-in-Chief Khaled Salah and another reporter were charged earlier this week with publishing false news in addition to inciting fear and threatening public security. After being summoned on Saturday after a complaint was filed against the two journalists by the Interior Ministry, they were released on bail later the same day.

Moreover, Ibrahim Aref, editor-in-chief of the privately-owned Al-Bayan newspaper, and a reporter were recently prosecuted on charges of publishing false information regarding the assassination of three prosecutors, though the newspaper had apologised for the news and printed a correction.

Dozens of journalists, including members of the syndicate board, staged a demonstration also on Monday at the headquarters of the Press Syndicate, calling for freedom of the press and the release of detained journalists. In chants, they demanded the release of 32 detained journalists and highlighted what they said were hundreds dismissed from their jobs as they commemorated Egyptian Journalist Day.

They also demanded, on Monday, the release of two journalists in particular, photo journalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, and activist and reporter Youssef Shaaban. 

Prior to the demonstration, the syndicate filed 13 complaints at the prosecutor general’s office demanding the immediate release of all journalists currently detained pending an investigation, and detailed alleged acts of torture inflicted upon journalists while in custody.

In Monday’s press conference, Qallash said in a statement that journalists, according to their legal rights, have agreed not to pay bail “because they are not supposed to be detained for publishing crimes in the first place”, something which contradicts with the constitution. 

“In cases where journalists are summoned, there has to be prior notification of the syndicate and they are entitled to request that a member of the syndicate’s council attend investigations with them in addition to one of the syndicate’s committee tasked with legal affairs.

“Journalists demand that the president of the country issue a clear statement regarding the crackdown on press freedom, manifested by officials and state institutions violating their right to free speech and access to information,” Qallash said. The statement concluded that journalists should be allowed information accessibility, and should respect media ethics and accuracy in reporting.

According to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, 44 reporters were arrested in 2014. On World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, Amnesty International said that at least 18 journalists and media workers remain in detention in Egypt. The London-based rights group said that the “pattern of arrests, charges and prosecution of journalists suggests that they are aimed at silencing the government’s political opponents and critics”.

“Amnesty International is warning that today there is no safe space for a journalist or blogger in Egypt to criticise the authorities’ political or human rights records, or to peacefully express their opposition,” the group said, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of detained reporters.

 Qallash told Al-Ahram Weekly that “prior to this week’s escalation, we officially filed two complaints to the public prosecution regarding arresting journalists without prior notice given to the syndicate. In addition, we called for cancelling the payment of bail to release summoned journalists since they cannot be jailed for publishing crimes”. He added that the syndicate had yet to receive a response for either complaint.

“Due to the absence of reaction to such complaints, and also due to the recent action taken against Youm Sabea editor-in-chief, this week’s escalation was a must,” the syndicate head said.

Summoning the Youm Sabea editor-in-chief echoed back to April’s incident concerning the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The privately-owned newspaper published a seven-page feature story on 19 April under the headline ‘The Police: Martyrs and Sins — Holes in the Official Uniform’. The report, which documented accusations of police brutality, concluded that personnel within the Interior Ministry had engaged in torture, rape, abuse, theft and kidnapping.

The report dealt in detail with five notorious incidents: the killing of leftist activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh during a rally; the murder of a conscript by his commanding officer in Sinai; the shooting of a convict by a police officer in a hospital; the alleged rape of a girl by two policemen; and the torturing to death of lawyer Karim Hamdi in Matariya police station.

Consequently, following the publishing of the report, prosecutors summoned Al-Masry Al-Youm Chief Editor Mahmoud Mosallam and four journalists, including page editor Youssri Al-Badri, for questioning. The interrogation was then postponed and the investigation indefinitely suspended after a meeting between Qallash and Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar.

“The case cannot be described as if we are in a clash with state institutions. Our goal is to preserve the freedom of the press and media which are among public freedoms since they serve the citizen even before serving the journalist himself,” Qallash said.

“The Interior Ministry has every right to respond to any report and to legally question the accuracy of what was published. However, it should not opt for unjustified procedures that violate press freedom,” he said.

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