In what appears to be an ongoing security crackdown on media personnel, four journalists were sentenced to three years in prison by the Sayeda Zeinab Criminal Court on Sunday. They were convicted of disseminating false information and belonging to a banned organization.
Electronic Media Syndicate chairperson Abu Bakr Khallaf was the only defendant present in the courtroom for the sentencing — the three other journalists were tried in absentia.
Khallaf allegedly made his LE1,200 bail on Monday, defense lawyer Hany al-Sadeq told the local rights group Journalists Against Torture Observatory, but it is unclear whether he has yet been released from detention. The first hearing in his appeal has been scheduled for March 17.
Khallaf was arrested on July 21 after the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation summoned him to their headquarters for interrogation on charges of operating the Electronic Media Syndicate (which was established in 2011) without a license. He was also accused of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The other journalists in the case — Mohamed Adly of the privately owned Al-Tahrir newspaper, Hamdy Mokhtar of the privately owned Al-Shaab newspaper and videographer Sherif Ashraf — were arrested while reporting outside the Zeinhom morgue on July 1. The journalists say they were there to report on the deaths of nine Muslim Brotherhood leaders fatally shot by police forces in a 6th of October City apartment on that day.
Rights organizations including the New York-based Human Rights Watch have questioned whether police claims of a “shootout” with the nine men were covering up a case of “extrajudicial execution.”
The Journalists Syndicate’s Liberties Committee will hold a session on Tuesday to discuss the three prison sentences issued in absentia, according to a statement posted to the syndicate’s official website. In that meeting, the committee also plans to discuss the referral of six journalists — including three chief editors — to judicial hearings at the request of Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend.
The committee will seek to resolve these cases in favor of the journalists, as well as five other lawsuits that have been filed against media workers, the syndicate said.
On Monday, the prosecutor general ordered investigations into charges that high-profile journalist and editor Ibrahim Eissa and his colleague Ahmed Samer insulted the judiciary. The investigations were ordered after a lawsuit was filed against the two men for defamation.
Samer was targeted for his article, “The state that spurns itself,” published in the privately owned Al-Maqal newspaper, which is edited by Eissa. The article discussed the recent prison sentence levied against reformist preacher Islam al-Beheiry for religious commentary on his talk show.
As of last month, at least 32 journalists were in detention across Egypt, the Liberties Committee said, of whom 18 were arrested while reporting in public space.
Also in December, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Egypt put a record number of reporters behind bars in 2015, coming only behind China in the list.