The committee supervising the Journalists Syndicate’s midterm elections approved on Tuesday the applications of 11 candidates running to replace Abdel Mohsen Salama as the head of the syndicate. The committee also approved 51 candidates to run for six open seats on the syndicate board. The elections are slated for early March.
The sole candidate rejected by the committee was imprisoned journalist Hesham Gaafar. Manar Tantawy, Gaafar’s wife, had submitted candidacy documents on his behalf last week.
The supervising committee had received objections to five candidates, including Gaafar, according to media reports. The objection to Gaafar’s candidacy for the syndicate board was the only one accepted, and his name was subsequently removed from the final list of candidates.
Amr Badr, a Journalists Syndicate board member who attended Tuesday’s committee meeting, told Mada Masr that the syndicate’s legal advisor found that Gaafar did not fulfill the necessary requirements, as he did not sign the candidacy papers himself. Badr said Tantawy needed specific power of attorney authorization for his candidacy as opposed to general power of attorney, which she used to file his submission.
Gaafar has been in prison since October 21, 2015, when security forces raided the headquarters of the Mada Foundation for Media Development (not to be confused with this publication) and arrested him. He faces charges of joining an outlawed organization and receiving an international bribe. Gaafar has spent over three years in remand detention, in violation of Article 143 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which limits remand detention to two years.
Tantawy told Mada Masr earlier that the elections committee had voiced objections to Gaafar’s prospective candidacy due to his detention. Yet her lawyer had assured her there was no legal impediment to him running, according to the syndicate’s bylaws, as Gaafar is being held in remand detention and has not been convicted of a crime.
Gaafar “retains the right to exercise all his political rights because no judicial verdict has been issued against him until now, nor has he been brought to trial,” Tantawy said.
Six of the 12 board seats are up for election in the midterms, currently held by Mahmoud Kamel, Khaled Mery, Hatem Zakaria, Ibrahim Abu Keila, Abul Seoud Mohamed, and Mohamed Shabana. All of the incumbents except for Abu Keila and Mohamed announced they are running for re-election to four-year terms.
Elections are also being held for the head of the syndicate, which is currently occupied by Abdel Mohsen Salama, who announced he is not running for a second term.
On a separate note, the syndicate board agreed on Tuesday to accept the admission of imprisoned journalist Ahmed Gamal Zeyada as a member of the syndicate, Badr told Mada Masr.
Zeyada was detained at Cairo International Airport on January 29 upon his arrival from Tunisia for a short visit to finish his application for syndicate membership. He was forcibly disappeared for over two weeks, appearing before the prosecution on February 13. On Saturday, a judge ordered him to be held in remand detention for 15 days on charges of publishing false news.
The day after Zeyada’s arrest, several syndicate members signed a statement calling on the head of the syndicate to examine Ziada’s past work and admit him despite his absence.
Zeyada was previously arrested in December 2013, while covering protests at Al-Azhar University. The charges against him included assaulting police officers, vandalism and illegal assembly. He was acquitted of the charges in April 2015 along with 12 others, while 54 defendants were sentenced to between one and seven years in prison.
During the year and a half that he was detained, he staged several hunger strikes to protest his detention without charge. In September 2014, his family said that prison authorities threatened to put him in solitary confinement if he didn’t end a hunger strike.