First prison sentence ever against journalist syndicate chief stirs wide anger

The two-year sentence issued on Saturday and a fine of LE10,000 against each of Journalist Syndicate Chief Yehia Qallash; Secretary General of the Syndicate Gamal Abdel Rahim; and Head of the Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee Khaled al-Balshy provoked widespread anger among journalists.

Some described it as ‘shocking’ and considered it an ongoing crackdown against freedom of thought.

The sentence is the first of its kind since the issuance of the first Arab newspaper in the Middle East, “Al-Waqa’e Al-Masriya”, almost 200 years ago, in 1820.

Several journalists launched an initiative to collect the amount of the fine.. in change! They put a box at the entrance of the syndicate and wrote on it “fund for collecting the fine”.

Police troops were seen in the vicinity of the syndicate.

During a press conference held at the entrance of the syndicate, Qallash said after the verdict: “We will take all the necessary legal measures against the verdict. We have all the right, as we are the ones under attack. We defend this entity with all that we have. We will take any escalatory measure in accordance with the recommendations of the general assembly and the syndicate board, which will convene within hours to take several decisions."

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the syndicate, Abdel Rahim, said: “The sentence is tough and the case is fabricated. We expect that it will harm Egypt’s reputation.” Al-Balshy, the head of the Freedoms Committee, said: “We should continue our syndicate battles, including the economic decisions against journalists, the unified media law and [efforts for] freeing the detainees.”

As for Sayed Abu Zeid, the syndicate’s legal adviser, he said he will file an appeal against the verdict within 24 hours and pay for the fine soon.

Qasr al-Nil Misdemeanor Court sentenced the three journalists to prison over sheltering the two journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Saqqa, even though they were wanted by security.

The verdict stirred angry reactions. MP Osama Sharshar, member of the parliament’s media committee, said “the verdict will be exploited by enemies of the country to tarnish the image of Egypt. I will file an urgent statement to the prime minister to demand expediting the unified media law to prevent detention of journalists.”

Medhat al-Zahed, spokesperson of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, summed it all up by saying that the verdict was based on fabricated reports.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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