RSF calls for withdrawal of charges against three Egyptian reporters about to go on trial
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all proceedings against three women reporters for Mada Masr, one of Egypt’s last independent news websites, who could face up to two years in prison on charges of “offence against MPs” and “misusing communications channels” in a trial due to start on 6 March.
The three journalists – Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh – were already detained for a long interrogation at the prosecutor-general’s office in the Cairo district of El Rehab in September 2022, along with their editor-in-chief, Lina Attalah, who was awarded the RSF Prize for Independence in 2020.
The three reporters are to be tried in connection with an August 2022 story reporting that several MPs with the pro-government Nation’s Future Party had been implicated in “gross financial misconduct” and influence peddling that could result in their “departure from the political stage.”
After the story appeared, dozens of complaints were brought by members of the Nation’s Future Party – which has a majority in the House of Representatives and supports President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – some accusing the journalists of publishing “false news.” If convicted, they would face between six months and two years in prison and fines of between 50,000 and 300,000 Egyptian pounds (1,500 and 9,200 euros).
“This trial of Mada Masr’s journalists is a travesty of justice and forms part of the arsenal of intimidation and harassment that the Egyptian government has deployed for years against this independent media outlet, which publishes information serving the public interest,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We call for the immediate withdrawal of all charges against Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh and for the release of all of the 23 journalists currently held by the Egyptian authorities.”
Mada Masr refused website licence
On 28 February, just a week before the start of the trial, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council (SMRC) – the media regulator created by President Sisi – finally confirmed that it is refusing to give Mada Masr a licence for its website, which has been blocked in Egypt since 2017.
Complying with a new media law, Mada Masr had requested the required licence for its website in 2018 but it had never received an official reply. Attalah had unofficially learned about the refusal when she was being interrogated in September 2022 in connection with the complaints against her three reporters, because at one point she was accused of “running a website without the proper licence” and was shown a refusal letter.
Following this discovery, Mada Masr filed a lawsuit before the State Council to force the SMRC to give the reasons for its refusal in writing. In its response, the SMRC claimed that Mada Masr’s licence application was submitted too late in 2020, six months after the new media law’s executive regulations were published. The SMRC also claimed that the documents submitted with the application were invalid. This is disputed by Mada Masr.
The official confirmation that Mada Masr is being denied a website licence is highly symbolic, because this independent news site is one of the last media outlets in Egypt not to have been brought under the state’s direct control, and because the Egyptian state has now openly accepted that it persecutes independent journalism and freedom of expression.