Reuters International

CAIRO (Reuters) - The head of Egypt's journalists' union and two of its board members were in police detention on Monday on charges of harbouring colleagues wanted by the law and spreading lies, their lawyer and a fellow union official said.

Amnesty International condemned the detentions as the most brazen attack on the media in the country for decades and urged that the charges against the journalists be dropped.

Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy, and Gamal Abdel Rahim went to a Cairo police station for questioning on Sunday and were ordered to pay bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (£769.44) each pending a trial, their lawyer Sayyed Abou Zeid told Reuters.

They refused to pay on the basis that they deny the charges, said Abou Zeid and another board member, Osama Dawoud.

Judicial and security sources said late on Monday other syndicate members had paid the bail and the three men would be released soon.

Police raided the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate

in Cairo on May 2 and arrested two journalists critical of the government who had been sheltering inside.

Qalash and the syndicate condemned the arrests, which sparked protests from journalists, and issued a statement two days later demanding the interior minister be sacked.

Union officials said at the time that police had raided the building - a traditional spot in downtown Cairo for staging protests - for the first time in its 75-year history.

They said police were banned from searching the building except in the presence of the syndicate chief or his deputies.

The interior ministry denied officers had stormed the building but confirmed it had arrested Mahmoud El Sakka and Amr Badr, who work for the opposition website Bawabet Yanayer and were wanted on charges linked to spreading lies and possession of firearms.

A prosecution statement said the police had the legal right to enter the building as it had issued arrest warrants for the Sakka and Badr on charges unrelated to their journalism.

The charges against the journalists were levelled as authorities try to quell rising dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Thousands of demonstrators called on April 15 for "the downfall of the regime", a slogan from the 2011 uprisings that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Police dispersed smaller protests two weeks later, arresting hundreds.

"The authorities are clearly attempting to punish them for speaking out against the government and to send a strong message to intimidate all journalists into silence," said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty.

(Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah and Lin Noueihed; editing by Andrew Roche)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International