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Egypt: authorities should immediately end judicial intimidation of independent journalists and ensure press freedom

lundi 12 septembre 2022 - 4:36pm

PEN International strongly condemns Egyptian authorities’ intimidation of Mada Masr’s editorial and reporting staff, as prosecutors summoned and interrogated four journalists, including the Editor-in-Chief, Lina Attalah, one of TIME’s most influential people in 2020. All four journalists face retaliatory charges for reporting on corruption investigations into a pro-government political party. PEN International calls on the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges and end its crackdown on independent journalists.

On 13 August 2022, Egyptian prosecutors summoned Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah, and journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab for interrogation in relation to their reporting, which revealed plans for several senior officials in the pro-government Nation’s Future Party to be removed from their posts due to their alleged involvement in instances of corruption. On 1 September, the Party issued a statement describing Mada Masr’s report as “fake” and intended to discredit the Party, which holds a majority of seats in the parliament. The Party also threatened to take legal action against Mada Masr and its staff.

On 3 September, Mada Masr announced announced that the provincial prosecutor, located in Luxor province in south Egypt, had summoned one of its journalists for interrogation, expressing concerns that the Nation’s Future party is targeting its journalists. Shortly after Party members and MPs had filed several complaints against Mada Masr’s staff and administration across the country, the prosecutors summoned the four journalists for interrogation.

On 7 September, all four journalists, including Lina Attalah, were interrogated by prosecutors over multiple charges, including “slander and defamation of Nation’s Future Party members,” “using social media to harass the party members,” and “publishing false news intended to disturb the public peace and cause damage to the public interest.” Attalah faced an additional charge of “operating a website without a license” despite Mada Masr’s attempts to register under the new law Regulating the Press and Media (Law 180/2018) in 2018. All four journalists were released on bail after paying between 20,000 and 5000 EGP.

Background

Since President Al-Sisi grabbed power in 2014, spaces for independent and free media have shrunk significantly. Egyptian authorities have utilised a series of draconian laws, including the notorious 2015 counter-terrorism law and other repressive tactics, to erode freedom of expression and impose suffocating restrictions on media outlets and critical voices.

Since 2017 Al-Sisi has been aggressively consolidating his grip over traditional media outlets, redesigning the legislative framework governing the media and redrawing the ownership map of the private media outlets.[1] In January 2017, a former military intelligence officer and former army spokesperson announced that his company had officially taken over the Al-Assema private media network. Also, the DMC TV network, which is widely known to be controlled by the military, started broadcasting in 2017, establishing itself as a major player in the Arab media landscape. In September 2017, a subsidiary of the Falcon Group, an Egyptian security agency with high-ranking government officials, purchased the private al-Hayat network. Most of Egypt’s traditional media outlets have become controlled or heavily influenced by security agencies.

Mada Masr is one of the few remaining independent media outlets that are not controlled or influenced by Egyptian security agencies. Since its establishment in 2013, Mada Masr’s journalists have been offering their readers high-quality journalism, including news and investigative reports on politics, human rights abuses, and corruption. Egyptian authorities have repeatedly harassed Mada Masr and its journalists because of their work. Mada Masr’s website is banned in Egypt since 2017. In November 2019, Mada Masr’s office in Cairo was raided by security agents who detained three senior journalists for hours, a few days following a story about President Al-Sisi’s son. In May 2020, Attalah was arrested and detained for several hours while interviewing Laila Soueif, the mother of imprisoned British-Egyptian writer Alaa Abdel Fattah.

Note to Editors

For more information, please contact Mina Thabet, MENA Regional Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org