Tuesday,19 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Tuesday,19 June, 2018
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Positive meeting

The prime minister has approved the Press Syndicate’s requests

Salama and Ismail
Salama and Ismail

Recently elected chairman of the Press Syndicate Abdel-Mohsen Salama described his meeting with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail on Saturday as positive and that Ismail had welcomed the ideas that were proposed and agreed on the requests sought.

During the meeting, Salama said they had tackled the financial situation of journalists and the need to increase their technology allowance and pensions.

The allowance is financial support the state allocates to the Press Syndicate and is given to journalists on a monthly basis, which currently stands at LE1,150. During his electoral campaign Salama pledged to raise both the allowance and pensions.

“Ismail agreed in principle to increase the technology allowance and pensions for journalists starting July,” Salama said. The increase has not yet been determined but Salama earlier claimed it would be the highest in history.

“The increase will be determined following a meeting with the minister of finance,” he said.

The talks also tackled Press Syndicate land in 6 October City. Salama said Ismail had agreed to extend a deadline for the payment of a second piece of land, 30.9 acres, and also agreed to consider the reallocation of the first piece covering 34 acres.

According to a statement issued by the syndicate, Ismail also agreed to finance payment of arrears on the syndicate’s allocated piece of land in the Maritime Club in Alexandria for the financial benefit of the syndicate. “Ismail also welcomed the idea of building a hospital for journalists and vowed to provide the necessary funding for its construction. He also welcomed establishing the Journalistic Training Institute in a vacant floor at the syndicate’s headquarters,” the statement said.

Concerning legislation, Salama said Ismail stressed his support for the issuance of the Freedom of Information Act in addition to the draft of the syndicate’s bylaws which will be submitted to the cabinet after being reformulated.  

The statement stated that the cabinet fully supports the freedom of the press and the role of the Press Syndicate. Ismail, the statement added, also stressed the importance of the role of the press in building a modern democratic state and countering terrorism and extremism in the coming period so as to restore Egypt’s leading position and pivotal role in the Middle East and the world.

Ties between journalists and the government had been strained. Late last month, the syndicate issued a statement demanding an investigation into what it said was a violation committed by the Interior Ministry when it stormed the syndicate’s headquarters in May 2016. The syndicate said it will address the prosecutor-general to take action concerning reports filed on 28 April and 4 May last year against the interior minister and Cairo security chief regarding the harassment of journalists by security forces obstructing them from accessing the syndicate’s headquarters.

The statement came in response to a Qasr Al-Nil misdemeanours appeals court ruling that last week sentenced former syndicate leader Yehia Qallash, former deputy president and head of the Freedoms Committee Khaled Al-Balshi, and current council member Gamal Abdel-Rehim to one year in prison each. The ruling, however, granted a stay of execution by the court. The trio was sentenced to two years in prison and fined LE10,000 each in November for harbouring Amr Badr, now a member of the syndicate’s board, and Mahmoud Al-Sakka.

The case is linked to protests against the agreement signed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in April 2016 which ceded Egypt’s control over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Riyadh. To protest against an arrest warrant issued against them on charges of organising unlicensed demonstrations against the islands deal, Badr and Al-Sakka announced they would hold a sit-in at the headquarters of the Press Syndicate. They then sought refuge in the syndicate’s headquarters where they were arrested. 

On 29 May Qallash, Al-Balshi and Abdel-Rehim were summoned for questioning and eventually charged with harbouring two fugitives. Badr and Al-Sakka said that using the syndicate as a sanctuary was part of a long-standing tradition by which Egyptian journalists seek the syndicate’s help when facing legal problems related to their work.

The statement, which followed an urgent meeting called for by the recently elected board, asserted its solidarity with Qallash, Al-Balshi and Abdel-Rehim. “With all due respect to the judiciary, the syndicate fully supports the three colleagues and will provide them with full legal assistance,” the syndicate said. The meeting called for the formation of a committee of legal experts to follow up the case in the Court of Cassation.

Nine NGOs also issued a joint statement in response to the suspended one-year sentence issued against Qallash, Al-Balshi and Abdel-Rehim, considering it “a new black mark on the records of journalistic freedom”.

The NGOs urged the authorities to provide “an unbiased atmosphere” to challenge the verdict and called on Salama and the new syndicate board to take on their responsibilities to defend syndicate members. The statement, issued on 27 March, also stated that both the investigation and the trial clearly indicated there were previous intentions against the three of them.

“The verdict goes on the list of politicised verdicts made over the past few years against activists of the civil community in Egypt,” the joint statement said.

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