For the first time in its 75-year history, the Egyptian Press Syndicate has been taken to court by the state. Three senior members of the Syndicate now join numerous other journalists, dissidents and activists fighting harsh rulings that could leave them in jail for years.

What does it mean to disseminate false news when the government itself is in the business of disseminating false news?

Marwan Kraidy, author, The Naked Blogger of Cairo

Never before has the Press Syndicate been taken to court by the state and for many citizens it's more than an organisation, it's a safe place. The Press Syndicate's headquarters is a five-minute walk from Tahrir Square and is, in some ways, is just as symbolic. A place that the security forces had never breached, and would never breach, until April of this year, when two journalists wanted by the police took shelter there.

"Now that that's been violated, this marks a significant escalation in the repression of the press in Egypt," says writer and commentator Timothy Kaldas.

This latest chapter in the Syndicate's story goes back six months, when two reporters, wanted by the police, took shelter there.

They work for a news site called Yanair and had been charged with spreading false news for their reporting on the Sisi government's decision to transfer two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

The transfer of the islands, which came after the Saudis agreed to pump billions of dollars into Egypt's struggling economy, sparked the kind of protests rarely seen by the Sisi government.

Three senior officials at the Syndicate have been jailed for harbouring the two Yanair journalists, who have been cleared of the false news charges, the specifics of which were never revealed.

There was another big legal ruling this past week - commuting the death sentence of former president and Muslim Brotherhood party leader, Mohammed Morsi. Given how loudly so many mainstream outlets supported the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, this ruling served as a loyalty test for the Egyptian news media.

There are still huge numbers of people behind bars in Egypt - many of them journalists - but their cases have mostly gone unreported and many of their names are unknown.

Talking us through the story: Timothy Kaldas, writer and commentator; Khaled Diab, journalist and author; Mohamed Elmasry, media scholar; and Marwan Kraidy, author of The Naked Blogger of Cairo.

Source: Al Jazeera