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Egypt government 'at war' with the media, says journalists' union

Union leader says 29 Egyptian journalists are currently in jail, some of whom have been in custody for three years
Egyptian journalists demonstrate outside the Syndicate headquarters in Cairo on Tuesday (AFP)

Egypt's journalists' union on Tuesday denounced what it called a decline in press freedoms and accused the govenrment of being "at war" with the profession after two reporters were arrested.

Human rights activists accuse President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of running an ultra-authoritarian government that has violently suppressed all opposition since toppling president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

On Sunday, police sparked media and opposition outrage by storming the journalists' union building in an unprecedented raid and arresting two reporters.

A day later, the authorities ordered the detention for 15 days of Amr Badr and Mahmud el-Sakka on allegations of incitement to protest.

The prosecutor said the pair would be held as part of an investigation which also includes allegations they had called for a "coup".

Badr heads the website Babawet Yanayer which is opposed to Sisi.

Sakka works for the same organisation whose Arabic name means January Gate in a nod to the January 2011 uprising that forced longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak to stand down.

"This year we mark World Press Freedom Day with Egypt down in all the international rankings," union chief Yahiya Kallash told a press conference ahead of a union general meeting scheduled to be held on Wednesday.

"Instead of seeing the government take concrete measures to overcome this situation, we are surprised to see it escalating the war against journalism and journalists," he said.

Kallash denounced "unprecedented searches of the offices of information providers" and the "practice of censorship before publication".

He said "29 journalists are currently behind bars, some of whom have been in custody for nearly three years".

The union chief addressed an often rowdy press conference of some 200 journalists during which he was interrupted by chants against the police who controlled access to the building.

"Interior ministry thugs!" they chanted.

Abuses by the police were a catalyst for the 2011 popular uprising, but such practices have again become commonplace.

On Tuesday, social network users reacted with contempt to an email mistakenly sent out to the press by the police, containing an internal circular on "media management" of the crisis.

"We cannot turn back, as that would mean a mistake has been made," it said, and called for "the use of security experts and retired police generals to expound the ministry's view" in the media.

"We must work to obtain the support of public opinion... in conveying the idea that the union wants to be above the law, that its members do not want to be accountable."