Responding to the opening of criminal investigations against the editor-in-chief and three journalists of Mada Masr, one of the few remaining independent media platforms in Egypt, in relation to an article on a pro-government party’s alleged corruption, Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International said:
“This latest attack on journalists who dare to deviate from the official narrative in Egypt further exposes the chasm between the Egyptian authorities’ self-declared commitment to human rights, including ‘free speech’, and the grim reality. Harassing one of the few remaining independent media platforms in Egypt reinforces concerns over the ability of independent civil society actors and others to voice their opinions without fear of reprisals at the fast-approaching UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Sharm al-Sheikh in November.
“The authorities must immediately drop all the bogus charges and close this politically motivated investigation against Mada Masr journalists”Philip Luther, Amnesty International
“The authorities must immediately drop all the bogus charges and close this politically motivated investigation against Mada Masr journalists. They must also release all journalists who have been detained solely for carrying out legitimate media work and exercising their right to freedom of expression; end all forms of censorship, harassment and intimidation of journalists; and repeal the draconian media laws undermining press freedoms.”
On 7 September, Mada Masr editor-in-chief Lina Attalah and three journalists, Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were questioned by prosecutors on charges of “spreading false news” and “defamation” of Nation’s Future party members and “deliberately disturbing [them]”, in addition to “operating an unlicensed website” in the case of Lina Attalah. According to Mada Masr’s lawyers, prosecutors asked the editor-in-chief to identify the authors and editors of the article in question as well as the outlet’s sources, institutional workflow and funding.
The journalists were all released on bail, but may still will face trial, if indicted, on charges punishable by up to two years imprisonment and fines.
The Egyptian authorities have increasingly consolidated their grip on the media in recent years through online censorship, raiding and closing independent media outlets and controlling content in both public and private media.
In November 2019, security forces raided the Mada Masr office in Cairo and briefly detained four journalists, including the editor-in-chief Lina Attalah, in what appeared to be direct retaliation for a report on the Egyptian president’s son Mahmoud Al-Sisi being sidelined from a powerful intelligence position. Mada Masr has unsuccessfully sought a license since 2018.
Since 2013, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested, detained, prosecuted and/or convicted journalists and other media workers simply for expressing critical views or carrying out their media work. At least 23 journalists remain behind bars, including six who were detained during the last five months, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.