The first to be arrested was Shady Zalat, one of the editors at Mada Masr, whose site has been blocked in Egypt since June 2017. He was arrested at his home in the early hours of 23 November and was finally released yesterday evening. Mada Masr reported in a statement that plainclothesmen arrested him at his Cairo apartment without showing an arrest warrant.
His arrest came shortly after Mada Masr reported in a story posted on its site that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s oldest son had been removed from a senior position within Egypt’s General Intelligence Service and had been assigned a diplomatic posting in Moscow after internal criticism of his conduct.
Mada Masr reported in a subsequent statement that police raided its headquarters yesterday afternoon, seizing the ID cards, phones and laptops of the 16 staff members present, and demanding the passwords of some of the devices in order to examine their contents. Three of the journalists, Rana Mamdouh, Mohamed Hamama and editor in chief Lina Attalah were then taken to a police station, where they were held for several hours and finally released.
“A search of its headquarters and arrests of several of its staff members – this is clearly the price that a news organization risks paying in Egypt if it covers a sensitive story,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“This is not just another major blow to Mada Masr, which has already been weakened by the blocking of its website within Egypt. It is also another major violation of the Egyptian public’s right to be informed. The authorities must stop persecuting the media and all forms of independent journalism.”
As well as arresting four of Mada Masr’s Egyptian staff members, the police separately questioned two of its foreign employees, US citizen Ian Louie and British citizen Emma Scolding.
During the raid, a France 24 crew consisting of Eric de Lavarene and Nadia Bletry arrived with the intention of interviewing Attalah about Zalat’s arrest. The police also detained them until two diplomats from the French embassy arrived and eventually managed to persuade the police to let them go.
Since a series of protests began in Egypt on 20 September, at least 20 journalists have been detained in the biggest wave of arrests since 2014. Some of these journalists have been released.
Egypt is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.