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Egyptian police storm journalists' union and arrest reporters

First raid in union's history results in arrest of two journalists accused of 'incitement to protest' over controversial Red Sea islands deal
Egyptians take part in a protest last Monday, when the union says dozens of its members were arrested (AFP)

Egyptian police stormed the headquarters of the journalists' union for the first time in its history on Sunday, arresting two journalists for “incitement to protest”.

The country's Interior Ministry said on Monday morning that the raid on the oldest labour union in the country – which came as Egyptians marked International Workers Day – was at the request of the prosecutor general, Egypt's highest judicial body.

The raid resulted in the arrest of Amr Badr and Mahmoud el-Saqqa, both of the opposition news site January Gate.

Reports conflict as to the scale of the raid, with police denying they entered the building by force, saying only eight officers were involved.

Members of the syndicate, however, told AFP that the raid was carried out by “dozens” of officers who stormed the building, injuring a security guard.

Following the raid dozens of jounalists gathered outside the building, chanting "You said jounalism and freedom. You gave us prison and arrests".

Later on Sunday a group of 32 journalists released a statement announcing an open-ended sit-in at the syndicate, blasting the government for what they called "a brutal assault on press freedom to stop [journalists] doing their part to expose regime crimes, from the killing, torture and kidnap of thousands to the forfeiting of [the Red Sea islands]".

Yahya Kallash, head of the journalists' syndicate, on Monday called for the Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar to resign after what he said was an “unconstitutional and illegal” raid.

Speaking on the steps of the syndicate in central Cairo on Monday morning, Kallash promised to hold a general assembly of the union on Wednesday – also World Press Freedom Day - to formulate a response.

“The raid by security forces, whose blatant barbarism and aggression on the dignity of the press, journalists and their syndicate, has surprised the journalistic community and the Egyptian people.”

Badr and Saqqa were arrested after publicly announcing their intention to take part in recent anti-government demonstrations, in violation of Egypt's strict law banning all protests apart from those approved by police.

The journalists' syndicate has been at the heart of a recent wave of anti-government sentiment following the controversial decision to cede control of two key Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The union last week lodged a formal complaint against the interior minister, saying police had barricaded members inside the headquarters and illegally arrested large numbers of journalists who were attempting to cover Red Sea islands protests last Monday.

The area surrounding the headquarters was reportedly blocked off on Monday morning, with dozens of police officers and armed soldiers preventing people from approaching from both sides of the street.