CAIRO: As the world celebrated Press Freedom Day on May 3, at least 23 journalists remain behind bars in Egypt, either due to their political affiliations or the critical work they published. Ranking among the worst countries in education and health services quality and transparency, Egypt is second to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists.

You think it’s a bad record? The Egyptian Interior Ministry does not feel the same. Just two days before the World Press Freedom Day, Egypt’s Interior Ministry forcibly raided the historical headquarters of Egypt’s renowned Journalists Syndicate and arrested two journalists from inside the building.

It all started in April when the Egyptian government signed a contentious deal to transfer the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, whose regime has paid billions of dollars in the last three years in support to the current ruling regime. Thousands of Egyptians protested the contentious handover deal, and journalists Mahmoud al-Sakka and Amr Bard were among those who wrote to support the Egyptian identity of the two contested islands.

Soon after the protests broke out, around one thousand of Egyptians were arrested nationwide, from cafes, homes and universities with accusations of protesting or planning to protest without acquiring official permissions from authorities. Badr and Sakka were among those who were summoned for investigation. To avoid raiding their homes at the dawn and scaring their loved ones, both journalists took their syndicate as a shelter before they were arrested.

The raid has set a very dangerous precedent. It is the first time in Egypt’s history that a syndicate is raided by authorities. The syndicate law and the Constitution stipulate the protection of all syndicate headquarters that cannot be inspected by authorities except through an official order from the prosecution office and in the presence of the syndicate head. On May 1, around 50 plainclothes policemen raided the syndicate, arrested the two journalists, and left! As simple as that!

Outraged by the Interior Ministry flagrant practices, thousands of Egyptian journalists gathered on Wednesday inside their syndicate demanding the resignation of the Interior Minister and an official apology from the presidency, as well as releasing all detained journalists. As journalists flocked to the syndicate’s historical building in downtown Cairo, police forces besieged all the routes leading to the syndicate, only allowing journalists with their syndicate membership cards to pass. Hundreds of non-members journalists and supporters including activists and other syndicate representatives like syndicates of doctors and lawyers were not allowed to pass to show solidarity.

Around the police barriers set in the streets surrounding the syndicate, a number of male and female thugs were left to verbally and physically insult journalists as they pass to their syndicate building. The thugs were brought to the syndicate area with a bus carrying the sign “Tahya Masr” or Long Live Egypt, the official slogan of the presidential campaign of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Two of my colleagues were beaten and assaulted by the thugs under the sight of police forces stationed in the area.

A strong state will never fear a free media, but authoritarian regimes do. Everyday since the outbreak of the January 25th revolution, a number of journalists lost their lives to report the truth, others sacrificed their freedom including photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid Shawkan and my friend and investigate reporter Ismail Alexandrani.

Journalists in Egypt brace for tough days, and the Interior Ministry as well.

Journalism is not a crime.

(Main photo: Al Jazeera)