CAIRO — A fierce battle took place between the Ministry of Interior and the Journalists Union following the detention of journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka in May of this year on charges of inciting the public to take to the streets following the so-called Tiran and Sanafir crisis. Egypt ceded control of the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that drew widespread public criticism.
The journalists accused the security forces of using excessive force when storming the union, where they arrested Badr and Sakka as they were seeking shelter in the union’s headquarters. On the other side, however, some accused the Journalists Union of disrespecting the law and harboring wanted individuals, which is the charge against union head Yahia Qalash and two board members. Following Badr’s release late last month, Al-Monitor interviewed him to discuss his imprisonment and to get his response to claims that his release was the outcome of a political deal with the regime. In addition, Badr spoke about his evaluation of freedoms in Egypt and how the state deals with this matter.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Were you subjected to any sort of harassment or violations during your imprisonment?
Badr: There was no physical torture. On the contrary, the treatment was good inside the prison. However, psychologically, my friend Mahmoud al-Sakka and I were detained in a small cell where we were not allowed to leave for 70 days. Afterward, we were allowed to spend half an hour in the morning outside the cell. In addition, the visits were not allowed for 21 days, and we used to sleep on the ground even though all prisoners were treated differently in this regard.
Al-Monitor: How do you respond to claims that you were released after a political deal or as part of negotiations with the regime, as activist Esraa Abdel Fattah stated?
Badr: This is not true. My release was not a result of a political deal or a part of negotiations with the regime. Nobody mediated to release me. However, it is likely the state is looking to resolve all issues related to the crisis of Tiran and Sanafir islands.
Al-Monitor: Is there any relation between your release and the release of lawyer Malek Adly and the visit of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the United States for the UN General Assembly session?
Badr: No. There is no relationship between the release of Adly and myself and the president’s visit [to the UN], as we were released awhile before the president’s visit to America. However, there might be a relationship between the president’s visit to the United States and those who were set free afterward, as their release might have come as an attempt to alleviate criticism against the president with regard to the human rights issues.
Al-Monitor: Why were you released before Mahmoud al-Sakka even though you were arrested together and were both in one trial?
Badr: It is about the law, not politics. I was released after my appeal that I submitted to the court was approved. However, Mahmoud al-Sakka did not have the right to appeal at that time, given that he had just submitted an appeal and was rejected. Therefore, he had to wait 30 days so that he can submit another appeal.
Al-Monitor: A battle broke out between the Journalists Union and the Ministry of Interior after you were arrested from the union’s headquarters. Who lost the battle in your opinion?
Badr: The union was not defeated in this battle. Battles are not usually determined by the knockout. However, the real victory is the union’s decision to go into a fierce battle in defense of journalism and not myself. The union engaged in similar battles with all the regimes that ruled Egypt; the regimes are gone, yet the union is standing firm.
Al-Monitor: However, on the ground, the union did not achieve most of its general assembly’s demands, i.e., an apology from the interior minister for the raid, in addition to the disputes that erupted among the union’s board members. Don’t you consider these losses?
Badr: The general assembly might not have achieved some of its goals; however, the meeting of the assembly along with the presence of thousands of journalists in defense of the dignity of journalism is a real victory. We must not forget this scene whatsoever, and history will celebrate the will of journalists, their union and their general assembly that demanded a presidential apology.
Al-Monitor: What is your response to the voices claiming that you have dragged the union into a political battle, not a professional one?
Badr: These accusations are baseless. The Journalists Union defends freedoms in general; therefore, it went into a battle with the ruling regime because it is fighting for the freedom of speech.
Al-Monitor: You said that the prison made you more mature and inspired you to reassess the ways through which you can achieve your beliefs. What are the old ways that you believed in, and what has changed after your last experience?
Badr: I have beliefs that prison would not change, such as being an opposing journalist who believes in social justice and freedom. However, I was mistaken about how to express such beliefs. The prison experience made me realize that there are other ways to express my beliefs than protesting. I have the greatest tool to oppose, which is my pen, my career [as a journalist] and my position as an editor-in-chief of Yanayir website through which I can express my beliefs along with other tools such as demonstrations.
Al-Monitor: Some people say that Egypt will witness another revolution. Do you agree?
Badr: I cannot tell whether another revolution will break out in Egypt. However, I believe that Egypt needs a real change and it is experiencing an economic crisis. There is no doubt that change is coming, and I hope it will be peaceful. It is hard for the current situation to persist, especially with the presence of the considerable economic crisis, i.e., price inflations. On the political level, it is evident that freedoms are repressed.
Al-Monitor: How do you evaluate the freedom of press and media under the current situation?
Badr: Freedom in Egypt is nonexistent, and the regime does not believe in freedoms. In addition, freedom of speech and belief are certainly restricted, and the current regime has forgotten that freedom was the slogan of the [January 25] revolution.
Al-Monitor: Will you run again for the board membership of the Journalists Union?
Badr: I have not made a decision yet. I will consult with my friends to see if it would be better to run for the position. However, if it is better to play another role outside the union’s board, then I will do so.