Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

MPs debate Press Syndicate crisis

Parliament’s Media and Culture Committee has completed its report on the ongoing crisis between the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Osama Heikal, chairman of parliament’s Media and Culture Committee, has told reporters that the crisis between the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry will be discussed by parliament in a plenary session next week.

Heikal said a report compiled by the committee, which is due to be presented to MPs, will include a review of the positions of the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry and issue recommendations for a solution for the crisis.

“A number of documents will be attached to the report, together with a review of mediation efforts exerted so far,” said Heikal.

The crisis erupted when plainclothed police officers raided the syndicate’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on 1 May to arrest two journalists accused of “publishing false news” and “inciting the overthrow of the regime”.

A 10-member delegation visited the Press Syndicate’s headquarters on 10 May to meet with members of the syndicate’s board.

“The board said it was ready for a friendly solution with the Interior Ministry but in a way that does not compromise the dignity of journalists or the syndicate,” said Heikal.

In a letter to parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal on 9 May, the head of the syndicate, Yehia Qallash said, “The council welcomes all initiatives aimed at containing the crisis between the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry and greatly appreciates the role of parliament in this respect.”

Qallash, however, accused the Interior Ministry of showing disrespect for the law when it sent a security force to storm the syndicate. Article 70 of the Press Syndicate’s law (Law No 76/1970) stipulates that its headquarters can only be searched “by a prosecution official in the presence of the head of the syndicate or someone delegated to act on his own.”

According to Qallash, the two arrested journalists — Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa — had only been in the syndicate building for a few hours and were there to seek help. “They were then surprised by a large security force that stormed the building to arrest them,” said Qallash.

“Dozens of police, alongside tens of thugs, imposed a siege on the syndicate building in order to intimidate journalists. Some of the thugs used physical force to prevent journalists from entering the building, which fuelled anger among members who then demanded an escalation in actions against the Interior Ministry,” Qallash wrote.

“The Press Syndicate was also surprised by the organised campaign demonising journalists and portraying them as enemies of the nation.”

Qallash’s letter did not refer to the syndicate’s earlier demand that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi apologise and Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar be sacked.

In a general meeting on 4 May, Qallash had insisted that both Al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail apologise, and that Abdel-Ghaffar be dismissed.

“Only by meeting these demands will it be possible to correct the mistakes committed and heal the wounds of the Press Syndicate,” said Qallash.

In a meeting on 8 May, however, Qallash said the Press Syndicate board had withdrawn its demand for a presidential apology. “But we still insist that Interior Minister Abdel-Ghaffar resign from office,” he said.

Sources close to the Media and Culture Committee say MPs are divided about how to tackle the crisis. One group, led by journalist Mustafa Bakri, has adopted a hard line against the Press Syndicate’s board and backs the Interior Ministry.

Bakri told parliamentary reporters that Qallash’s letter to Abdel-Aal contained many “lies”.

“Qallash lied when he said he knew of the problem facing the two journalists only on 30 April, just a few hours before they were arrested on 1 May,” said Bakri. “Qallash knew that prosecution authorities had issued an arrest warrant on 19 April and that he ignored calls from the Interior Ministry when it sought his help in an attempt to avoid having to arrive at the syndicate to implement the warrant.”

In a letter to Abdel-Aal, Interior Mnister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar said that just eight police officers were involved in the arrest, only two of whom entered the building.

“They were no more than the tools used to implement an order from the prosecution. We did not search the premises and what action was taken was done so only at the request of prosecutors and after the head of the syndicate refused to answer our calls to hand over the two wanted journalists,” wrote Abdel-Ghaffar.

Bakri said opinion has turned against the Press Syndicate.

“The hard line adopted by the syndicate’s board has been criticised by MPs and led to many journalists meeting at Al-Ahram to demand confidence be withdrawn from the board.”

He continued, “Many newspapers and TV channels also decided to backtrack on their support for the syndicate, saying they were misled by Qallash.”

Bakri claimed that the syndicate board has been hijacked by leftists and that parliament should join the journalists who met at Al-Ahram in their campaign to rid the syndicate of zealots.

A second group of MPs, led by film director Khaled Youssef, novelist Youssef Al-Qaeed and journalist Osama Sharshar, has called for a conciliatory meeting to be held between the Press Syndicate’s board and Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar.

“But the Media and Culture Committee has so far failed to facilitate such a meeting,” said Sharshar.

Heikal said the Press Syndicate refused to send a delegation to parliament and continues to insist that Qallash’s letter to Abdel-Aal constitutes an adequate response to the crisis. “They also say that they have sent a memo explaining their legal position to Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek.”

 Heikal revealed that the committee had concluded that the syndicate was at fault for allowing two people facing criminal charges to seek refuge in its headquarters.

“The problem now is the syndicate’s board does not want to admit it made a legal mistake and apologise for it,” said Heikal.

The Media and Culture Committee’s report supports the Interior Ministry’s contention that it was simply implementing a prosecution order.

“Prosecution authorities also insist that the Interior Ministry was acting on its orders and that police were just implementing Article 99 of the Criminal Procedures law and did not search the building,” according to the report.

But given that the Press Syndicate continues to argue that the Interior Ministry violated Article 70 of the Syndicate’s Law, while the prosecution authorities insist the arrest of the two journalists was in line with Article 99 of the Criminal Procedures Law, the committee concluded that the legal dispute between the Interior Ministry and prosecution authorities on one side, and the Press Syndicate on the other, can only be settled by the courts.

“While judicial authorities can give a final say on whether the Interior Ministry made a mistake or not, the committee believes that the Press Syndicate board council violated the law by accepting that two people facing criminal charges hide in its building,” the report argues.

 “The ongoing crisis has nothing to do with freedom of speech. This is a crisis which erupted over whether or not the applicable legal procedures were correctly [used].” 

The report warned, “To politicise this dispute or resort to escalatory measures at a time Egypt is facing a lot of challenges will serve only to compound the mistakes already committed.”

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