Egyptian authorities on Monday arrested the head of the country's press syndicate and two colleagues for allegedly sheltering two journalists sought by police in early May and for spreading false news.
Egypt's press syndicate chief Yahia Galash and senior board members Khaled Elbalshy and Gamal Abd el-Reheem refused to post bail set at 1,126 dollars and were detained at Cairo's Qasr al-Nil police station.
The three men are accused of allowing journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka to take refuge from police inside the syndicate headquarters on 1 May, during the controversial storming of the building at the height of protests over the government's transfer of two Egyptian islands to Saudi control.
Galash, ElBalshy and el-Reheem also face charges of spreading false news by allegedly ignoring a media gag order and reporting that over 40 heavily armed policemen stormed the journalists syndicate on 1 May to arrest Sakka and Badr.
In a statement, rights group Amnesty International on Monday deplored the arrests as "an alarming setback for freedom of expression and the most brazen attack on the media the country witnessed in decades".
"The arrest of key media figures at the press syndicate signals a dangerous escalation of the Egyptian authorities’ draconian clampdown on freedom of expression and demonstrates the extreme measures the authorities are prepared to take in order to tighten their iron grip on power,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim deputy director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme.
Sakka and Badr were wanted by authorities for "spreading false news". The two journalists, who run the progressive 25 January news portal, were among many slapped with arrest warrants ahead of protests on 25 April against the deal handing the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.