Security forces stormed late Sunday the press syndicate in Cairo and arrested two journalists who were staging a sit-in inside, a move described by syndicate head Yahia Qallash as "unprecedented".
Qallash told CBC TV that around 50 security personnel broke into the syndicate to execute arrest warrants for Amr Badr, editor-in-chief and founder of Yanair (January) news portal, and journalist Mahmoud El-Sakka, who works for the same website.
Critics said the move was a violation of Egyptian press law.
Slamming what he described as a “police state," Qallash called on President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to intervene immediately. "The security forces should have informed the syndicate beforehand ... what happened is unprecedented in the history of the syndicate," Qallash added.
The interior ministry disputed Qallash's account.
"Only four officers entered the syndicate to arrest the journalists, who willingly left the syndicate with them," the ministry spokesman Abu Bakr Abdel Karim told CBC.
The general prosecutor issued arrest warrants for both Badr and El-Sakka, who were in the syndicate protesting raids on their houses last month, for a number of charges including "spreading rumors about the disputed Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir."
He added that the syndicate will convene an emergency meeting of its board to formulate an appropriate course of action in response to the arrests. Meanwhile, a group of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists started a round-the-clock sit-in at the syndicate.
Two demonstrations erupted last month following Egypt's decision to acknowledge Saudi Arabia's sovereignty over the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Scores were arrested and many were referred to court on a number of charges, including taking part in unauthorised protests.
Saudi and Egyptian officials said the islands belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz Al Saud, asked Egypt in 1950 to protect them.