Egypt journalist unionists get 2 years' jail for harbouring colleagues

web_photo_egypt_photojournalists_021016

Egyptian photojournalists raise their cameras during a demonstration outside the Syndicate headquarters in Cairo on 3 May, 2016 on the occasion of World Press Freedom day.

CAIRO  - An Egyptian court sentenced the head of a journalists union and two board members to two years in prison on Saturday for harbouring colleagues wanted by the law and spreading false news, judicial sources said.

Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim can appeal the decision.

Saturday's decision to sentence the journalists comes as authorities try to quell rising dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The verdict marks the first time for a head of the journalists syndicate to be put on trial since the union was founded 75 years ago. Human rights activists and lawyers have condemned the decision.

READ: Egypt expels British-Lebanese TV host

"The case shouldn't have gone to court to begin with," said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer and founder of a rights organisation, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

"The decision is political ... We are not talking here about law and the judiciary."

Egyptian prosecutors in May ordered Qalash, al-Balshy and Abdel Rahim be tried on charges of harbouring colleagues wanted by the law and spreading lies.

The journalists' lawyer Sayyed Abou Zeid at the time told Reuters they denied the charges, which relate to a 2 May police raid on the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate to arrest two opposition journalists who had sought shelter from arrest.

Qalash condemned the arrests of Mahmoud El Sakka and Amr Badr, which sparked protests from journalists, and issued a statement two days later demanding the interior minister be sacked.

Amnesty International urged the authorities to drop the charges against the union chiefs.