Hundreds of journalists on Wednesday attended the general assembly held by the Press Syndicate against the backdrop of the court verdict sentencing syndicate president Yehia Qalash and two board members to two years in prison.
“If some think we are in trouble, your presence here today is our gift, which enables us to hold together and pursue our cause,” said syndicate president Yehia Qalash during the assembly’s opening speech.
Commenting on the recent verdict which charged him with harbouring wanted suspects, Qalash said: “The syndicate represents freedoms and will never be turned into a police station where I am required to turn in my colleagues. If I’m guilty of this, then all previous syndicate leaders are, and I consider it an honour.”
The syndicate’s president then announced that the conference will be turned into an open meeting between syndicate board members and journalists in order to hear their suggestions and opinions on three topics.
The first topic concerns the syndicate’s conflict with the Interior Ministry, which started in May when police forces stormed the syndicate. The second topic relates to new media and press laws being drafted.
“We are concerned about the unified media and press law and the way laws will be drafted and their consequences on the future of this profession,” said Qalash.
The third topic relates to the impact of recent economic decisions on the press and journalists.
“Press and media freedoms feed into the right of every citizen to be able to communicate, participate, and be informed,” he concluded.
This was the second large gathering of journalists in relation to the conflict between the syndicate and ministry.
“The verdict was expected. It comes amid a systematic state crackdown on people’s rights to organise themselves to defend their rights,” commented journalist Hisham Fouad ahead of the conference.
In Wednesday statements to Daily News Egypt, Fouad argued that the regime is “killing people’s ability to stand up for their socio-economic and political rights. We saw that happening with independent workers’ unions, student movements, and now syndicates.”
Fouad carried on by saying that the attack on the press is also marked by risky legislations that might be issued in the future. “It seems that media and press laws prepared by the press community, including the syndicate, will be completely dismissed for the sake of more restrictive laws,” he said.
Socialist Popular Alliance party (SPAP) leader Medhat El-Zahed told Daily News Egypt that he believed the verdict was a shocking and unparalleled act, and that the syndicate should be respected as a house of freedoms.
With reference to the controversial Red Sea islands case, El-Zahed said the syndicate’s stairs hosted those who protested peacefully to defend Egypt’s ownership of the islands and refuse their ceding to Saudi Arabia.
“Then, the regime decided to applaud those who raised the Saudi flag while jailing those who raised the flag of their country,” he said.
The court set 25 December for the first session in the appeal case filed by the syndicate leaders. The trio was released on a EGP 10,000 bail.