Lina Attalah’s arrest at around midday on 17 May was highly symbolic not only because her newspaper is one of Egypt’s last independent media outlets but also because she was arrested outside Tora prison in a south Cairo suburb while interviewing the sister of one of its leading inmates, the well-known journalist Alaa Abdel Fattah.
Fattah has been on hunger strike for more than a month in protest against a ban on visits since the coronavirus epidemic reached Egypt. After detaining Attalah, the police confiscated her mobile phone and took her to a police station, where they interrogated her and finally released her in the evening.
The government’s constant harassment of Mada Masr and its staff has including blocking access to its website within Egypt since 2017, which deprives it of visibility and complicates its economic survival.
Last November, the police searched the newspaper’s headquarters and briefly detained four of its journalists, including Attalah, shortly after it published an investigative piece about President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s oldest son.
“The harassment of Mada Masr has gone on for too long,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “This instance is a really tragic summary of the plight of journalism in Egypt – a leading journalist working for a censored independent media outlet is arrested for trying to cover the fate of another leading journalist who is arbitrarily detained.”
Attalah was the fifth journalist to be arrested in less than ten days, following Moataz Wednan, Mostafa Al-Aasar, Haitham Hasan Mahgoub and Sameh Hanin. But Attalah is the only one to have been released.
Egypt is ranked 166th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.