Journalists Syndicate head Yehia Qallash and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim have been referred to trial on charges of harboring fugitives and propagating false news about their arrest, according to lawyer Khaled Ali. The first hearing is scheduled for Saturday.
Ali said procedures are currently underway to release the three men from custody.
The prosecution summoned Qallash, Balshy and Abdel Rahim for interrogation on Sunday in relation to the recent arrest of journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka from the Journalists Syndicate, where they were holding a sit-in earlier this month. The arrests have triggered a protest movement within the organization.
The three syndicate members had refused to pay the LE10,000 bail because one of the charges they face relates to publishing, which according to the Constitution is not punishable by detention, according to a statement released by Qallash. However, Tarek Negeda, a lawyer and leading member of the Popular Current Party, paid the bail on their behalf.
Negada told the privately owned newspaper Youm7 that he made the payment at the journalists’ request, but a source close to Balshy told Mada Masr that the defendants were enclosed in a room and the bail was paid without their knowledge. The Popular Current said in a statement that it was not involved in the payment of the bail, and that it supports and abides by the defendants’ decision to refuse to pay.
On Sunday, the prosecution rejected the board members’ request to have a judge supervise the interrogations. Prosecutors then confronted the defendants with testimony from their fellow board member, Hatem Zakareya, who claimed that Qallash was aware of the arrest warrant for Badr and Saqqa, yet allowed them to continue their sit-in, a source on the syndicate board told Mada Masr.
However, Zakareya released a statement on Monday asserting that he stands in solidarity with his colleagues and that his testimony was in line with theirs.
During Sunday’s questioning, Balshy argued that the syndicate did not try to hide Saqqa and Badr, board member Mahmoud Kamel told Mada Masr. Kamel was present during the interrogation.
According to Kamel, Balshy maintained that Saqqa and Badr had announced the location of their sit-in publicly and stayed in the syndicate until there was a confirmation of the arrest warrant. The syndicate tried to confirm the warrant had been issued by contacting the Ministry of Interior before preparing the journalists to hand themselves over in the presence of Qallash to ensure their safety.
Following an emergency meeting on Monday, the Journalists Syndicate board issued a statement condemning the interrogation, calling it an “unprecedented escalation.” The syndicate voiced support for its leaders’ decision to reject bail, and announced that it was considering calling for an emergency general assembly in order to plan the appropriate action to take next.