Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Still a conviction

Journalists are supporting the former Press Syndicate chairman and two leading members, all of whom received a one-year suspended jail term

Still a conviction
Still a conviction

On Saturday 25 March the Qasr Al-Nil Appeals Misdemeanours Court sentenced former Press Syndicate chairman Yehia Qallash, former head of the syndicate’s Freedoms Committee Khaled Al-Balshi and current board member Gamal Abdel-Rehim to a one-year suspended jail term on charges of harbouring two wanted colleagues on the premises of the syndicate.

Because of the Appeals Court ruling, Qallash, Al-Balshi and Abdel-Rehim will not serve the initial two-year sentence. The penalty and all other effects will be automatically dropped, as stipulated by Article 59 of the penal code.

However the suspended sentence is conditional, meaning that if any of the three suspects commits a crime of the same degree during the coming three years, he would be obliged to serve the penalty.

This week’s ruling reduced a first-degree verdict passed in November last year sentencing the trio to two years in prison with bail set for LE10,000 each. The three contested the ruling before a higher degree court.

The story dates back to 1 May last year when police forces raided the syndicate and arrested journalist Amr Badr and freelancer Mahmoud Al-Saqqa. Badr and Al-Saqqa, accused of calling for unlicensed protests against the ceding of Tiran and Sanafir islands, were released after four months of pre-trial detention.

Qallash, Al-Balshi and Abdel-Rehim’s handling of the raid was viewed as sufficient cause for the three to be put on trial. In the aftermath, the syndicate’s general assembly called for the resignation of the interior minister and demanded an apology from the presidency.

In Press Syndicate polls staged two weeks ago, Qallash and Al-Balshi lost their seats while Abdel-Rehim managed to remain on the council. Badr was elected a council member.

In his first reaction to the ruling, Qallash said he would appeal to the Cassation Court to contest the verdict which is not final, adding that although it was reduced, it was not a conviction. “We will continue our legal path until we get an acquittal,” Qallash said.

According to Qallash, the ruling was a message of intimidation to any syndicate chairman who tries to defend his syndicate and protect the rights of its members.

Lawyer Tarek Negeida, part of the legal team defending Qallash and his two colleagues, said appealing to the Cassation Court was a must, adding that this week’s ruling had fatal legal mistakes, including the contradiction in the narrations of eyewitnesses and what Negeida said was the fabrication of incidents that did not happen.

A detailed report, including reasons for contesting the ruling, will be presented to the Cassation Court within 60 days.

Qallash’s lawyer said he was sure the Cassation Court would drop the ruling for legal reasons.

Negeida referred to what he described as one big mistake which annulled the ruling. Article 145 of the penal code punishes whoever harbours an individual who has already been sentenced to no more than six months. An arrest warrant, says Negeida, is not enough.

“This way, the ruling violated the law and its interpretation,” Negeida said. “Secondly, it is illogical to harbour a wanted person in a public place, like the syndicate building. Besides, as a syndicate chairman, Qallash is not allowed to ban any member from entering the syndicate’s premises. This is not his right,” Negeida added.

On the effects of the ruling, Negeida said the three suspects will not be deprived of any of their rights. “They are free to travel and to practice all their professional and political rights because the crime they are accused of is not classified as disgracing honour,” Negeida said. “Once the three years are over they will not be required to file a lawsuit restoring their reputation as all their rights are already maintained,” he noted.

“Although the ruling has no direct effect, we should fight to abolish it because it touches on the dignity of the Press Syndicate and all journalists,” Negeida added.

For their part, journalists gathered on Saturday 25 March in front of the syndicate’s headquarters chanting in support ofthe trio and against the “politicised” ruling. They also demanded the release of all detained journalists.

“We will continue to defend press freedom and the independence of the syndicate. This is our mission and we will not abandon it,” Al-Balshi said on Saturday.

On his Facebook account, Abdel-Rehim wrote on Saturday: “The ruling passed against us is not a message of intimidation. It is an encouragement that will push us to continue defending Egypt’s lands and journalists’ rights.”

The syndicate’s Freedoms Committee announced its support for its three colleagues and asked the syndicate’s Legal Affairs Department to study the reasons behind the ruling and take immediate legal action.

New Press Syndicate Chairman Abdel-Mohsen Salama stressed his “utmost respect” of judiciary rulings while saying he had hoped the three would have been acquitted. 

The newly-elected council, chaired by Salama, held an urgent meeting on Sunday noon to discuss how to respond to the ruling. Following the meeting, board members issued a statement saying they would take all the legal measures necessary to support their colleagues during the remaining litigation. A committee including some council members and a legal team was formed to help the three journalists and their defence council contest the ruling.

The syndicate’s council also decided to address the prosecutor-general, asking him to complete investigations into the complaints filed by the syndicate’s former council on 28 April and 4 May against the interior minister and Cairo security chief for banning some journalists from entering the syndicate.

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