Downtown Cairo Prosecution has released the Chairman of the Journalists Syndicate, Yehia Qalash, and board members Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim on bail ahead of their trial, set for this Saturday.
The defendants face charges of harboring two wanted colleagues, Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka in the syndicate's headquarters, along with charges of circulating false news regarding a police raid of the syndicate headquarters.
Questioning of the defendants went on for over 14 hours at Qasr El-Nil Police Station, Cairo, after which they were released on LE30,000 bail collectively.
According to lawyer Abdel Sattar al-Balshy, Qalash told the prosecutors that he could not at any time prevent a member of the syndicate from accessing its headquarters.
Qalash also stated that the fugitives Badr and Sakka had sought shelter at the syndicate's headquarters after they learned that arrest warrants had been issued against them, and staged a sit-in, Balshy relayed.
Qalash told the prosecutors that he had then contacted the Interior Ministry and confirmed that the two journalists would hand themselves in for interrogation as required on the condition that they would not be subjected to police violations, he added.
But in a testimony that contradicted a claim filed against the Interior Ministry over the storming of the syndicate, two private security personnel from the syndicate testified that the police did not storm the building.
During questioning, Balshy and Abdel Rahim said they were abroad in Morocco when the incident took place and came back to follow up on the affair.
The prosecutors referred to footage and phone calls made by the three journalists, in which they accused the police of storming the headquarters, as evidence against them regarding the charges of circulating false news.
Defense lawyer Sayyed Abu Zeid said during the questioning that Badr and Sakka had the right to access the syndicate building as long as their membership stood. Journalists are within their rights to seek help from their syndicate when in trouble, he reiterated.
The affair began when police entered the syndicate on May 1 to seize the two fugitives at the height of anti-government protests over the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi control.
Badr, the editor-in-chief of yanair.net, and his colleague Sakka were wanted on warrant for spreading false news and seeking to incite illegal protests, scheduled for April 25, against the maritime border agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia earlier that month.
They took shelter in the syndicate's headquarters in downtown Cairo as police searched for them at their homes.
Police eventually arrested the two men at the syndicate building in a controversial incident that the syndicate described as a violent and "unprecedented" raid.
According to some reports, around 40 police personnel were involved in the operation.
However, the Interior Ministry claims that only a handful of policemen were involved in making the arrests and that the scale and seriousness of the incident had been exaggerated for political purposes.
Following the arrests, Qalash called for the resignation of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm