The Interior Ministry announced in a statement on Thursday that it stormed the Yaqeen News network premises the previous day and arrested its director, Yahia Khalaf.
The ministry accused the network of being a “media arm” of the Muslim Brotherhood, and spreading false news and rumours with the intention of destabilising the current regime and inciting against it.
The police confiscated equipment, including laptops, which contain video footage of Brotherhood protests, pictures of the bodies of “Brotherhood elements” who were killed during an exchange of fire with the security forces in 6th of October City.
According to the statement, the prosecution ordered the detention of the network’s director for four days, with investigations currently ongoing.
YNN video journalist Mohamed Salah told Daily News Egypt on Wednesday that Khalaf was detained at Qasr El-Nil police station, awaiting referral to Abdeen Court, while another employee was released.
“This is not the first time the network was stormed,” Salah said. “In February last year, the same thing happened, where security forces stormed the network, arrested everyone and confiscated equipment. The employees were later released.”
According to Salah, Khalaf was also arrested during last year’s security campaign. Salah also said that the confiscated equipment from last year is yet to be released by the authorities.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned on Wednesday the storming of YNN’s premises and the arrest of its director and another employee, and the confiscation of equipment.
According to ANHRI’s statement, Khalaf is charged with practicing a profession without a licence, possession of cards carrying the name of the network without a licence, and possession of a lawyers syndicate’s card without him being a lawyer.
ANHRI considered the incident a breach of Articles 70, 71 and 72 of the Egyptian constitution, which guarantee press freedom, and demanded halting the continuous violations of constitutional principles. The organisation also demanded the immediate release of the network’s director, stressing the need to cease the security crackdown against journalists in general.
Yaqeen News Network was established during the 25 January Revolution, and has been expanding in both numbers of employees and scope since then.
Photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, who was acquitted in April of all charges in the Al-Azhar University clashes case, was assigned by YNN to cover protests at the university in December 2013. Security forces arrested him while he was undertaking his assignment.
The photojournalist initiated two hunger strikes during his detention, which lasted for more than 480 days, in protest at his unjustified detention.
Ziada’s name was among 10 journalists mentioned by the international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a letter addressing Egypt’s presidency, demanding the immediate correction of the status of journalists in Egypt.
According to the CPJ, the number of detained journalists in Egypt is currently the highest on record since 1990. The latest census of imprisoned journalists in Egypt indicates that, of the 18 journalists currently imprisoned, one-third have been handed life-sentences, with most being accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Most recently, the controversial anti-terrorism law has come under scrutiny by the Press Syndicate and journalists, following recently proposed amendments to the law by the Cabinet earlier this month. The scrutiny comes regarding an article that sets a minimum of two years imprisonment for publishing news or information on terrorist attacks that conflict with official statements.
The amendments to the law draft were approved by the state council’s legislation department, and are awaiting President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s ratification.
In an official letter on Thursday, the CPJ urged Al-Sisi not to sign new anti-terrorism and cyber crime bills, stating that both serve only to restrict freedom of expression in the country.
The CPJ also urged Al-Sisi to ensure the release of all journalists behind bars in relation to their reporting.
“Journalists in Egypt should be able to work freely in order to satisfy the public’s right to and need for independent reporting,” the letter concluded.