Egypt’s press syndicate decided on Wednesday to form three committees “to follow up on” the consequences of the recent prison sentence against the syndicate head as well as outstanding issues facing journalists, mainly the “new media law and the impact of the recent economic decisions on journalistic institutions.”
The decision was made following an open meeting held at the syndicate’s downtown headquarters, where syndicate head Yehia Kalash hailed the crowd, saying that the meeting was a show of unity by journalists in the face of “real issues.”
Kalash discussed the recent prison sentence issued against him and other board members, saying that if a decision was to be made between them being put in jail and the survival of this institution, “we would choose the institution.”
Kalash said that serving jail time would be “a cheap price to pay for the survival of this entity.”
“We did not commit a crime. We were the ones who were assaulted,” Kalash said.
On Saturday, Kalash and two other syndicate board members — Gamal Abdel-Reheem and Khaled El-Balshy — were sentenced to two years in prison for “harbouring fugitives” inside the syndicate's headquarters
The syndicate head said at the Wednesday meeting that he refused to be in a confrontation with the judiciary, stressing that the syndicate has always supported the sovereignty of the judiciary.
He also led a chant of “long live press freedom and long live the unity of journalists,” to which the crowd chanted enthusiastically.
Around 200 people attended the open forum amid a minimal police presence around the syndicate.
Wednesday’s meeting comes a few hours after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in an interview with Portuguese TV network RTP that the jail sentence against the union chief stems from a criminal conviction, and is not a freedom of speech issue.
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 verdict against the union leaders, which was issued in absentia earlier this week after the trio abstained from appearing in court, can still be appealed, and the court has set bail at EGP 10,000 for each defendant.
A Cairo court has set 25 December to hear an appeal by the defendants against the verdict.