A Cairo court has set 25 December to hear an appeal by the head of Egypt’s press syndicate and two board members against a ruling earlier this week sentencing the trio to two years in prison for harbouring fugitives inside the syndicate's headquarters.
On Saturday, a Cairo misdemeanor court sentenced the syndicate chairman Yehia Kalash and board members Gamal Abdel-Reheem and Khaled El-Balshy in absentia after they failed to appear in court.
The court set bail at EGP 10,000 for each defendant.
Hours after the ruling, the press syndicate's board issued a statement saying that the verdict is the latest move in a six month-long crisis engineered by the government against the syndicate.
The board also said it would take all legal steps to fight the verdict, stressing that “this verdict will not distract the syndicate from the basic issues currently facing journalists, such as the new media law and economic crises.”
The syndicate board is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
The syndicate also called on journalists to attend an open general meeting on Wednesday to discuss the implications of the recent conviction and the steps that should be taken in response.
The court ruling has been widely criticised by local and international rights groups.
On Monday, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released a statement condemning the verdict and expressing “its grave concerns over the escalation of attacks against the EJS [Egyptian Journalists’ Union], its leaders and press freedom in Egypt,” and called on the Egyptian government to take all necessary steps to sustain independent journalism as well as journalists’ social and professional rights.
“This latest attack against the EJS’ leaders challenges once more the principle of an independent journalists’ union and its main priority of defending journalists’ social and professional rights,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in the statement published on its website.
The three union leaders were accused in April by prosecutors of harbouring journalists Mahmoud El-Sakka and Amr Badr, who were wanted on charges of inciting violence ahead of the 25 April protests against the Egyptian-Saudi Red Sea maritime border agreement.
Badr and El-Sakka were arrested in a police raid on the union's headquarters on 1 May.
The two journalists were recently released on bail pending trial.
Kalash, Abdel-Reheem and El-Balshy are also facing charges of spreading false news about the police raid on the syndicate's headquarters.