Egypt: Journalists demand minister is axed over police raids

Journalists chant slogans during a protest in front of the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo. Picture: AP
Journalists chant slogans during a protest in front of the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo. Picture: AP
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Egypt’s journalists’ syndicate has called for the dismissal of the interior minister and an immediate sit-in at its headquarters in downtown Cairo, to protest the police detention of two journalists on its premises the night earlier.

After an emergency meeting in the early hours of yesterday morning, the group called for the “open-ended” sit-in to run through a general assembly meeting and World Press Freedom day today.

Later yesterday, dozens gathered at the steps of the building, chanting “journalists are not terrorists”. The syndicate described the police’s entry into the building as a “raid by security forces whose blatant barbarism and aggression on the dignity of the press and journalists and their syndicate has surprised the journalistic community and the Egyptian people.”

Some syndicate members have said the raid was heavy-handed, involving dozens of officers and resulted in a security guard being injured.

Police denied they entered the building by force and said only eight officers were involved, who they said were acting on an arrest warrant for the two journalists - accused of organising protests to destabilise the country. Unauthorised demonstrations in Egypt are banned, and demonstrators subject to arrest.

“The Ministry of Interior affirms that it did not raid the syndicate or use any kind of force in arresting the two, who turned themselves in as soon as they were told of the arrest warrant,” the ministry said in a statement.

The two journalists, Amr Badr and Mahmoud el-Sakka, are government critics who work for a website known as January Gate, also critical of president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government.

It was unclear what size any sit-in at the syndicate could achieve. Police, backed by army troops had initially barricaded the entire area and prevented people from approaching the building, but they eventually lifted the blockade. Still hundreds of uniformed and undercover police were deployed across central Cairo in order to prevent any protests.

A day earlier, police prevented hundreds of workers from holding a meeting at the building to commemorate International Workers’ Day, prompting independent trade union leaders to urge the government to allow them freedom of assembly.

The syndicate has invited the trade union leaders to join the sit-in to denounce the “raid” and protest restrictions on freedom of assembly.