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Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate made mistake hiding accused in building: Parliamentary report

A Media and Culture Committee report in parliament concluded that the Journalist’s Syndicate was mistaken to shelter journalists in the building who had accusations against them

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 17 May 2016
Press Union
Egyptian activists shout slogans, in front of the Press Syndicate in central Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2016 (Reuters)

The ongoing crisis between Egypt's Journalists Syndicate and the interior ministry took on a new direction this week.

A report prepared by parliament's Media and Culture Committee concluded that  the syndicate's board made a " big mistake" when it accepted that two persons accused of “publishing false news” and “inciting the overthrow of the regime” hide in the syndicate's headquarters in downtown Cairo.

"The problem now is that the syndicate's board does not want to admit or recognise that it made a legal mistake and refused to apologise for it," the committee’s report said.

In a plenary session on 8 May, parliament decided to entrust the Media and Culture committee with preparing a report about the crisis between the Journalists Syndicate and the interior ministry.

The report indicated that all documents relating to the ongoing crisis between the Journalists Syndicate and the interior ministry show that the crisis erupted when the ministry and prosecution authorities discovered that the syndicate's board had accepted that two persons sought for questioning by prosecution authorities hide in its building.

"While this is a grave violation of the law, the syndicate's board does not want to recognise it or apologise for it," the report said.

The report indicated that when asked about this mistake in a meeting with the committee's delegation on 10 May, the syndicate's board refused to admit it had made a mistake.

"They said the syndicate's lawyer had submitted the prosecutor-general a memo about their legal position in this respect," the report said.

In a letter to parliament’s speaker Ali Abdel-Aal on 9 May, head of the syndicate Yehia Qallash said the crisis with the interior ministry had erupted when a number of plain clothed police officers raided the syndicate's headquarters on 1 May to arrest two journalists.

"This is a violation of article 70 of the syndicate's law (law no 76/1970) which stipulates that its building can be searched only by a prosecution official and in the presence of the head of the syndicate or someone delegated to act on their behalf."

In its report, parliament's Media and Culture Committee indicated that the interior ministry insists that it was simply implementing a prosecution order.

"Prosecution authorities also insist that the interior ministry was acting upon its orders and that its forces were just implementing article 99 of the Criminal Procedures Law and that the forces did not search the building," the committee report said.

The report, however, concluded that the Press Syndicate insists that the Interior Ministry had violated article 70 of the Syndicate's law.

As prosecution authorities stress that the arrest of the two persons was implemented in a correct way and in line with article 99 of the Criminal Procedures law, the committee believes that this legal dispute between the interior ministry and prosecution authorities on one side and the syndicate on the other side can be settled only by courts and judicial authorities.

The report, however, said "while judicial authorities can give a final say on whether the interior ministry made a mistake or not, the committee believes that the Journalists Syndicate board council had violated the law by accepting that two persons facing criminal charges hide in its building."

"This is the core of the problem and the original reason why the crisis had erupted in the first place," the report said.

The report also argued that "while the constitution is clear in stressing the importance of respecting freedoms of speech, the committee believes that the ongoing crisis has nothing to do with freedom of speech."

"This is a crisis which erupted due to whether the necessary legal procedures were correctly followed or not," said the report.

It stressed that "a legal dispute between two state authorities should not be politicised."

"It is another big mistake to politicise this dispute or resort to escalatory measures at a time Egypt is facing a lot of challenges," the report said.

The report argued that "the interior ministry and the Journalists Syndicate are two state authorities and both have important roles to play in preserving the country's unity and boosting the rule of law." 

"In this respect, we call upon both the interior ministry and the Journalists Syndicate not to take escalatory measures because this only serves the interests of the enemies of this country," the report said.

The report explained that the committee did its best to close ranks between the syndicate and the interior ministry.

"All of our efforts in this respect were exerted in a very neutral way and were primarily aimed at preserving the unity of the syndicate and finding a solution for the crisis between the two parties in a friendly way," the report said.

The report concluded that while the report will be discussed in a plenary session before parliament, the committee will step up contacts to put an end to this crisis in a way that does not come at the expense of the dignity of both the Journalists Syndicate and the interior ministry.

"While the role of the syndicate is important to reinforce freedoms of speech, the role of the interior ministry is equally necessary to impose the rule of law and implement the prosecution's orders," the report concluded.


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