New York, May 2, 2016–Egyptian authorities should immediately release Amr Badr, Mahmoud al-Sakka, and all journalists jailed for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police on Sunday raided the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo, where the two were staging a sit-in protest, and arrested them, according to their employer and news reports. Today prosecutors ordered the journalists detained for 15 days of investigation on charges of “spreading false news,” “endangering national security,” and “organizing illegal protests,” according to news reports.
Badr, the editor of the news website Yanair, which is often critical of the government, and al-Sakka, another editor for the website, had taken refuge inside the Journalists’ Syndicate on Saturday and were staging a sit-in protest. About 50 policemen in civilian clothes stormed the syndicate Sunday night, assaulted its private security officers, and broke furniture in the lobby, while arresting the two, Journalists’ Syndicate President Yehia Qallash told CBC TV. Qallash called the raid “unprecedented” and “illegal,” and called on Minister of Interior Magdal Abdel Ghaffar to resign.
“Authorities in Egypt are abandoning all restraint in their efforts to intimidate and silence the press,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington. “Egypt’s government should open an immediate investigation into this violent raid, immediately release Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, and stop persecuting journalists for doing their jobs.”
In a statement published on its Facebook page today, the Interior Ministry denied using any kind of force in the arrest, saying the journalists peacefully turned themselves in to eight police officers at the syndicate, and that that police had followed the law in implementing an arrest warrant.
In a statement published on Yanair today, Badr said, via his lawyers, that authorities were targeting him and al-Sakka for their criticism of the government, including its recent decision to give Saudi Arabia control of two Red Sea islands. According to news reports, the two had been hiding, fearing arrest, since at least April 22, when police raided their homes before dawn.
Al-Sakka had previously been arrested in December 2015, on charges of belonging to an illegal group and planning illegal protests on the fifth anniversary of the January 25, 2011, uprising that led former President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Authorities ordered al-Sakka released in March, according to reports.
His arrest on Sunday follows revived protests, in which dozens of journalists have been detained, according to CPJ research. On Thursday journalists marched to the general prosecutor’s office in central Cairo to protest the escalated crackdown on the press. Journalists gathered again today to protest the storming of the syndicate and the arrest of their colleagues, according to media reports.
Egypt was the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide on December 1, 2015, according to CPJ’s prison census.