Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has said a recent jail sentence for journalists' union chief stemmed from a criminal conviction and was not related to freedom of speech or opinion.
"The sentence against the syndicate head is not associated with a [freedom of] opinion case…but is rather concerned with a criminal case of illegally harbouring suspects," El-Sisi said in an interview with the Portuguese TV network RTP on Tuesday.
Yehia Kalash was handed a two-year suspended sentence on Saturday and fined EGP 10,000 (approximately $623) for harbouring colleagues wanted by the law and spreading false news.
The colleagues Kalash was convicted of harbouring—syndicate board members Khaled Al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim—were given the same sentence as Kalash.
The journalists' union has appealed the verdict against Kalash and the two board members, all of whom where granted a retrial.
The conviction stems from an incident last May which syndicate officials described at the time as a police raid on the syndicate building to arrest Al-Balshy and Rahim, who had taken refuge there. Police said an arrest warrant had previously been issued for the two.
El-Sisi added that the Kalash is not being prosecuted "as a journalist or for a certain opinion he holds…It's a criminal trial."
"No one in Egypt is held accountable or prosecuted for their opinion," he added in the comments carried by state news agency MENA.
In the interview with RTP, El-Sisi quashed reports that thousands are unlawfully imprisoned or tortured in Egyptian prisons.
"There is no torture in [Egyptian] jails and if this happens it is illegal and the wrongdoer is held accountable for that," MENA quoted the president as saying.
He said a committee he tasked with reviewing the cases of young people convicted or in pre-trial detention is considering the cases of "no more than 500 [prisoners], not thousands as some assume."
Eighty-two people, mostly students, who were recommended by the committee for pardon were granted presidential pardons last week.