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Egypt: Authorities must stop targeting independent news website Mada Masr

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The undersigned human rights organizations denounce the summoning for investigation of Lina Atallah, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Mada Masr independent news website, by the Cairo Appeals Prosecution Office, tomorrow 6 December. The  investigation will take place over a month after the decision of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to block the Mada Masr website for six months. The council also referred those running the website to the Public Prosecution on the grounds of “practicing journalistic activity without obtaining a license… and for publishing false news without investigating its sources, defrauding the public, and harming national security,” according to its statement.

The targeting of Mada Masr’s editor-in-chief constitutes another in a series of episodes wherein journalists and bloggers have been targeted and prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities, simply for practicing their profession and expressing their opinions. These practices further indicate the Egyptian government’s evident intent to tighten control over media platforms, both traditional and online, including by blocking websites or suspending media outlets’ work or operations. The Mada Masr website is one of over 600 websites that have been blocked by the Egyptian security services from 2017 until today without legal basis.

On 28 November 2023, the Cairo Appeals Prosecution summoned Lina Atallah to appear for investigation the next day. At the present time, Atallah’s defense team has not been informed of the nature of the charges against her.  At the request of the defense team, the prosecution postponed the investigation to 6 December. In mid-October, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation announced an investigation into Mada Masr after it published a report about Israel’s potential displacement of Palestinian civilians to Egyptian territory.

The Egyptian authorities have a history of harassing and intimidating Mada Masr journalists, including women journalists. In September 2022, the Public Prosecution investigated Atallah and three other women journalists on Mada Masr’s website, and charged them with “publishing false news, disturbing public peace and harming public interest,” under  Article 188 of the Penal Code. The Public Prosecution further charged the editor-in-chief Atallah with “establishing a website without a license,” before the four Mada Masr journalists were released on bail ranging from EGP 5000  and 20,000.  Last March, the prosecution referred three women journalists, Rana Mamdouh, Sarah Saif al-Din, and Bisan Kassab, to the Economic Court in the same case, against the backdrop of their publication of a news story about corruption allegations in the pro-regime “Future of the Nation” party; the trial has not yet begun. In May 2020, security forces arrested Atallah while she was conducting a press interview next to the Tora prison complex; the Maadi Prosecution later released her on bail after accusing her of photographing a facility without a license. Atallah and three Mada Masr journalists also faced arbitrary detention in November 2019 following the raid of  the website’s headquarters; they were later released without being brought before the prosecution.

The persistent targeting of the  Mada Masr website and its staff is indicative of the Egyptian authorities’ systematic prosecution and detainment of journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Egypt ranks 166th out of 180 countries in the world rankings for freedom of press, and is further included in the list of countries constituting the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.  Repressive practices of the Egyptian government includes arrests of journalists and security raids on press and media headquarters. Among the media professionals currently detained are journalists Hala Fahmy and Safaa Al-Korbiji, who have remained in pretrial detention since mid-2022 on charges of “spreading false news”, pending Case no. 441 of 2022, Supreme State Security, due to their support  of workers at the Maspero the Radio and Television Building.

The Egyptian government continues to extend its control over the nation’s  media and journalistic landscape through heavy censorship of social media platforms, and also by deploying an arsenal of legislation to block websites , infringing upon press freedom and journalistic work.  Article 49 of the Anti-Terrorism Law allows the Public Prosecution and investigative authorities to suspend and block websites. Article 19 of the Press and Media Regulation Law includes ambiguous terminology such as “fake news,” facilitating  decisions by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to suspend and block websites and blogs. Article 7 of Combating Cybercrimes Law grants investigative authorities the power to block websites, if the content “poses a threat to national security or exposes the security of the country and its national economy to danger.”

The undersigned human rights organizations call on the Public Prosecutor to drop all charges against Lina Atallah, the editor-in-chief of the Mada Masr website. We renew our demand for the immediate release of journalists, bloggers, and content creators who have been detained in pretrial detention for years for in retaliation for practicing their profession, and for the illegal blocking of independent press websites to be lifted. All media outlets should be allowed to work without restriction and without harassment, prosecution, and censorship.

Signatories:

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Al Nadeem Center

Egyptian Front for Human Rights

Committee for Justice

Sinai Foundation for Human Rights

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

For more information and media requests or inquiries, please get in touch with us (+41229403538 / media@cfjustice.org)

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