Journalists, lawyers and public figures criticised the issuance of an arrest warrant against Khaled El-Balshy, the head of the Press Syndicate’s Freedoms and Rights’ Committee and editor-in-chief of independent news website Al-Bedaiah.
At least six political parties, 22 NGOs, and 92 public figures issued a statement on Tuesday expressing their solidarity with El-Balshy, stating that the arrest warrant was “nothing more than revenge against El-Balshy, who defends human rights and freedoms”.
They included local reputable NGOs working in the human rights field, as well as researchers, writers, lawyers and even parliamentary members, such as Khaled Youssef and Haitham El-Hariri.
El-Balshy, who claimed he found out that he is wanted “accidently and unofficially”, told Daily News Egypt Tuesday that he intends to present himself to prosecution authorities for investigation.
He added that the possible reasons behind his prosecution relate to the website’s coverage of human rights affairs, among other content that is critical of the Egyptian government. On Monday, Al-Bedaiah reported that charges against him included defamation of the Interior Ministry and police, as well as incitement to disturb public order and overthrow the regime.
Al-Bedaiah further reported that the deputy interior minister for legal affairs filed the official report against El-Balshy.
Meanwhile, El-Balshy made several public statements on Monday in which he considered his personal targeting to constitute “another attack on press freedom”.
“The case goes on, the real case of more than 42 journalists either detained or at risk of detention, in addition to all of those unjustly detained. There will never be freedom for the press in an unfree society,” El-Balshy wrote in a Facebook post.
El-Balshy also republished the annual report of the Freedoms Committee, issued in February 2016. The report documented 782 cases of violations against journalists in 2015. According to El-Balshy’s interpretation, “this means that on a daily basis, we have, on average, one to two violations against journalists in Egypt”. More than half of the reported violations were allegedly committed by the Ministry of Interior.
Elected as a member of the syndicate’s board in 2013, El-Balshy has since been advocating for journalists’ rights against security violations and imprisonment.
Last March, El-Balshy held a short sit-in at the syndicate, outraged by the deteriorating conditions for imprisoned journalists amid increasing assaults on press freedom. His described the purpose of the sit-in as being “in defence of our colleagues’ right to life”.
El-Balshy had also organised large-scale rallies and demonstrations on the stairs of the syndicate, calling for the release of imprisoned journalists.
While the crackdown on journalists in Egypt has been widely and internationally highlighted, including a recent urgent EU parliament resolution on Egypt, El-Balshy previously highlighted the state’s lack of response.
”There have been a few positive responses, very limited, though, and, most importantly, temporary. On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with us and asked us to respond to foreign reports,” he said.