The four journalists work for Mada Masr, an outlet critical of President el-Sisi, and which has struggled to operate freely in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities have interrogated the editor-in-chief and three journalists from independent news outlet Mada Masr for allegedly “spreading false information”, the publication said on Twitter.
Mada Masr head Lina Attalah and journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were summoned on Wednesday following complaints from members of the pro-government Mostakbal Watan (Future of a Nation) party over an article that accused the party members of “grave financial violations” that “should lead to their departure from the political scene”.
The August 31 article accused the most prominent member, secretary-general Ashraf Rashad, of abusing his position and increasing his personal fortune by profiting from helping businessmen to build a number of private projects in several Egyptian governorates.
Mostakbal Watan denied the news “in its entirety” and described the outlet as “shaking the security and stability of the country”.
According to Mada Masr, the four journalists – who were released on bail on Wednesday evening – were accused of defamation and “online harassment” as well as “spreading false information with an aim to destabilise the country”.
Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah, journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin & Beesan Kassab were released on bail on Wednesday evening after interrogation sessions at the Cairo Appeals Prosecution. pic.twitter.com/OWSXf4Lxoe
— Mada Masr مدى مصر (@MadaMasr) September 7, 2022
Attalah was also accused of operating a website without a licence, despite the outlet’s attempts to submit the required paperwork since 2018. Under Egyptian law, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council must notify the sites or entities that are refused a licence or have not completed the necessary documents.
Until now, Mada Masr has received no response regarding its legal status.
This is not the first time that Mada Masr has been targeted by Egyptian authorities.
In late 2019, police searched the publication’s offices in Cairo and arrested three journalists, including Attalah.
Attalah was arrested again in May 2020 outside Cairo’s Tora prison complex, where she was waiting to interview Laila Soueif, the mother of prominent jailed activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.
‘Constant harassment and intimidation’
While Egypt’s 2014 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the country has about 20 journalists behind bars and is regularly criticised for its human rights record, with more than 60,000 prisoners of conscience, several of them imprisoned for “spreading false information”, according to international NGOs.
Egypt was ranked 168 out of 180 countries on the 2022 press freedom index compiled by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Egyptian authorities to stop harassing the outlet and its staff.
“This harassment shows how determined President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government is to punish journalists for their work,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
Mada Masr is an online outlet that publishes investigations into matters involving Egyptian security and corruption in both Arabic and English.
The publication – which is often critical of el-Sisi’s government – is one of hundreds of news sites blocked by the authorities in recent years, and cannot be accessed in Egypt without a VPN.
RSF on Wednesday said that it was “extremely concerned by this threat to one of the few remaining Egyptian media outlets not to have been brought under the government’s control”.
“The constant harassment, intimidation and arrests of journalists by Egypt’s government are reaching dangerous heights and must cease at once.”