Egypt’s authorities must release the four Mada Masr journalists at once, RSF says
The editor of the independent Egyptian news platform Mada Masr and three of its reporters are currently being held for questioning by prosecutors in Cairo. The interrogation follows complaints filed by the ruling Nation’s Future Party accusing the paper of “aiming to destabilise the country’s security.” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned by this threat to one of the few remaining Egyptian media outlets not to have been brought under the government’s control.
Update on 8/09/22: The public prosecutor decided to release the four Mada Masr journalist on a bail of 20 000 pounds (1040 euros) for the editor in chief Lina Atallah, and 5000 pounds (260 euros) for each of Rana Mamdouh, Bissan Kassab, and Sarah Seif Eddin.
“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the four Mada Masr journalists who have been detained by Egyptian police since this morning for questioning,” said RSF's Middle East bureau. “The constant harassment, intimidation and arrests of journalists by Egypt’s government are reaching dangerous heights and must cease at once.”
In response to a summons from a Cairo appeal court on 6 September, Mada Masr editor Lina Attalah and three of the publication’s reporters – Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab – presented themselves for questioning at the prosecutor-general’s office in the Cairo district of El Rehab on Wednesday September 7, accompanied by their lawyer and a representative of the Journalists’ Union. They were still there at the time of publishing this press release.
The summons was issued in response to dozens of complaints filed by Nation’s Future Party members on September 1st, all making a range of accusations against Mada Masr’s journalists including “publishing false news.” On September 6, Mada Masr asked the Journalists’ Union to allow one of its representatives to attend the interrogations.
In a statement published in English on its website, Mada Masr said it had expected the summons because it was consistent with the significant pressure to which journalists in Egypt have been subjected in recent years. “We also express our regret that the majority political party in Egypt, known to be proximate to power, is using such tactics to intimidate a press outlet that is operating on behalf of public interest,” the statement added.
The names of three reporters who were summoned appeared in the by-line of an Arabic-language article published by Mada Masr on 31 August that revealed members of the Nation's Future Party were implicated in corruption cases that “led to a decision to expel a number of party officials from the political scene."
The party in question responded with a statement on September 1st, accusing Mada Masr of employing “dubious and unprofessional tactics to destabilise the country's security.” The statement also announced that the party would take legal action to obtain “compensation for damages suffered by party members.”
This is not the first time the authorities have harassed Mada Masr, one of the few remaining media outlets in Egypt that are not under direct state control or influenced by the government. Mada Masr has been covering Egyptian politics ever since its launch in June 2013 at a time of popular protests, just two years after the 2011 revolution. Police raided its headquarters in November 2019, holding all of its staff for several hours and arresting four of its journalists, who were later released. Attalah, the editor, was also arrested a second time in May 2020 and released later the same day.
Access to its website has meanwhile been blocked within Egypt since 2017. No fewer than 500 other websites have also been rendered inaccessible in Egypt, including the RSF website.
Any arrest of a journalist can develop into prolonged imprisonment in Egypt, where the climate is becoming more and more terrifying for media personnel who dare criticize President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government.
At least 23 journalists are currently detained by the Sisi government in appalling conditions, and at least half of them are in pre-trial detention. Almost all are accused of “spreading false news,” along with other charges. They include the bloggers “Mohamed Oxygen” and Alaa Abdel Fattah, who were sentenced in December 2021 to four and five years in prison respectively on charges of “belonging to a terrorist group” and “spreading false news.” Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike since April 2.
On August 29, a criminal court extended the detention of Rabie El-Sheikh, an Al Jazeera journalist, and Tawfiq Ghanem, the former editor of Islam Online and Anadolu, who has been held since 21 May 2021 on charges of “spreading false news” and “membership of a prohibited organisation.” And journalist Hamdy Al-Zaeem’s detention was extended by 45 days on September 6.
Those detained also include Alia Awad, a freelance photographer sentenced in late June to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges originally brought against her in 2013, and three other Al Jazeera journalists – Ahmed El-Nagdy, Bahaa Ed-Din Ibrahim and Hesham Abdel Aziz – who have been held preventively for periods ranging from one to three years on charges of “membership of a terrorist group” and “spreading fake news.”