Top leaders of Egypt's journalists' union say they have been referred to an urgent trial to start Saturday, over a police raid in early May on the union's headquarters to arrest two other journalists.

Journalists' Syndicate president Yahya Qallash, vice president Khaled Balshy and secretary general Gamal Abdul-Raheem will face misdemeanour charges of harbouring fugitives, Abdul-Raheem told dpa.

The three were released from custody after bail money was paid anonymously, state-owned news site Ahram Online reported.

The developments come amid an increasingly bitter stand-off between the syndicate and authorities over the May 1 raid, in which two journalists with the opposition Yanair website were arrested.

The two have since been questioned on charges of spreading false news, inciting unauthorized protests and plotting to overthrow the regime.

The charges apparently relate to protests in April over a government decision to cede two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The syndicate said its leaders had attended prosecution offices expecting to give statements on their complaints against police over the raid, which they maintain was illegal. Instead they found themselves facing accusations.

Amnesty International earlier called for the release of the three, saying their arrests were "a dangerous escalation of the Egyptian authorities' draconian clampdown on freedom of expression."

The May 1 raid on the syndicate's headquarters was highly symbolic, as it was the only place in central Cairo where protest was grudgingly tolerated under former dictator Hosny Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt's 2011 uprising.

A protest in mid-April against the handover of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia drew hundreds onto the streets around the building in one of the largest shows of non-Islamist opposition to President Abdel-Fattah's administration in two years.

Attempts to repeat the protests 10 days later were largely foiled by a large police presence and a wave of what rights lawyers have said were more than 1,300 arrests.

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