Egyptian police raid press syndicate, arrest two journalists critical of govt

Egyptian journalists hold signs outside the Egyptian Press Syndicate following the arrest of colleagues for covering anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt, on April 28, 2016.
Egyptian journalists hold signs outside the Egyptian Press Syndicate following the arrest of colleagues for covering anti-government demonstrations, in Cairo, Egypt, on April 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police on Sunday (May 1) raided the press syndicate in Cairo and arrested two journalists critical of the government, a syndicate official and reporters said, in what an opposition party called an unprecedented crackdown.

The Interior Ministry denied officers had stormed the press labour union building, a traditional spot in downtown Cairo to stage protests, but confirmed some of its members had arrested the journalists inside the syndicate.

Security forces have sought to quell dissent since thousands took to the streets on April 15 to protest a decision by President Abdel Fattah Sisi to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia. Police dispersed smaller protests two weeks later.

On Sunday, journalists held a sit-in inside the union when officers arrested two of them working for the opposition website Bawabet Yanayer including its editor, state newspaper al-Ahram said. "The incident is true and at the very least the interior minister has to be fired and there needs to be an apology," Mr Khalid al-Balshy, a syndicate board member, told Reuters.

Ahram quoted another union official as saying 50 officers had raided the building but the Interior Ministry denied this. "The syndicate was not broken into. A limited number of officers, not more than four or five, went in and took them (the journalists)," Interior ministry spokesman, Major-General Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, told the CBC channel.

One security guard was wounded in one eye when the police raided the union, Mr Mahmoud Kamel, another member of the syndicate board, told Reuters.

"There was an arrest warrant for the two journalists issued a week ago but the syndicate was negotiating with the interior ministry over the matter," he said. "This is unprecedented, no president or prime minister or interior minister has ever dared to do something like this,"he said.

Under the law, only a prosecutor is allowed to search the union in the presence of its chairman or deputy, he added.

Dozens of journalists later held a new sit-in at the syndicate to protest against the arrest, a reporter said. "The Egyptian Social Democratic Party denounces the storming of the press syndicate by security forces in an unprecedented move that is the first in the history of trade unions," the opposition ESDP said in a statement.

Mr Sisi faces criticism for putting the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters and a faltering economy, though there are no signs that his rule is under threat.