Egypt’s General Prosecutor issued on Tuesday a media gag order on the police raid of the Press Syndicate and the arrest of two journalists from inside the building.
Police arrested Amr Badr and Mahmoud El Sakka, two journalists, from inside the Press Syndicate after security forces stormed the building on Sunday night in a move described by the syndicate’s head as “unprecedented” and a “violation of law.”
The interior ministry published a statement accusing Badr and El-Sakka of “hiding” and using the syndicate as a “safe haven” and capitalizing on the involvement of the syndicate to create a crisis and cause chaos between all parties involved. The ministry also denied the storming of the syndicate, saying that only eight police officers were sent out to arrest the journalists.
In a statement, General Prosecutor Nabil Sadek said that the arrest of the two journalists was legally correct and was carried out based on an arrest order from the prosecution, and that there are no legal restrictions to arresting individuals from inside the Press Syndicate building.
According to the prosecutor’s statement, Badr, the editor-in-chief and founder of the Yanair news portal, and El-Sakka, a journalist who works for the same outlet, are being investigated on charges of “spreading false news,” “inciting the public” and “plotting to overthrow the regime.” These charges are not related to their professional work.
The gag order was issued hours after the interior ministry mistakenly sent an internal memo about its strategy for dealing with the “Press Syndicate crisis” to journalists, rather than to the interior minister.
“The ministry must have a steady position… backtracking suggests a mistake was made, and if there is a mistake, who is responsible for it and who will be held accountable?” the memo read.
The memo detailed the ministry’s plan to sway public opinion against the syndicate by using “carefully selected experts” from police backgrounds to appear on talk shows and discuss the illegal nature of “sheltering fugitives” and stressing that the Press Syndicate is not above the law.
Tensions in Egypt have been on the rise for several weeks following an announcement from the Cabinet that Egypt and Saudi Arabia had signed an agreement outlining the two countries’ maritime territory, placing the disputed Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir within Saudi Arabia’s territory.
According to the Cabinet statement, the signing of the agreement came after six years of negotiations between the two countries, causing many to voice their concern that negotiations of such importance were carried out without public knowledge.
Some also decried the agreement as an indication that Egypt had “sold” its land in exchange for Saudi Arabian aid, particularly as the agreement was announced shortly after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pledged USD 21.5 billion in loans and investments.
The announcement triggered a series of protests despite current laws prohibiting the gathering of a large number of people without prior consent from the interior ministry. The demonstrations began by decrying the agreement and the secretive manner in which it was reached but quickly morphed into anger against the interior ministry and its heavy-handed strategies of dealing with protestors, which included nationwide arrests of activists, journalists and lawyers.