LONDON: The editor-in-chief and three journalists from independent Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr were charged by authorities on Wednesday with spreading false information about President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s political party, Nation’s Future.
The award-winning Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah, and journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were interrogated by Egyptian authorities at the Cairo Appeals Prosecution before being released on bail.
The four were charged “with 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,” Mada Masr reported.
The charges come days after Mada Masr published a newsletter about Nation’s Future, accusing the pro-government party of “serious financial infractions” that “should lead to their departure from the political scene.”
The story was disputed “in its entirety” by the party, which in turn accused Mada Masr of adopting “dubious and unprofessional measures to destabilize the country’s security.”
Attalah is also charged with operating a website without a license.
Mada Masr attempted to apply for a license since 2018 and claims it has not received any response regarding its legal status.
The outlet said in a statement that it “has attempted since 2018 to obtain licensing under the new law regulating the press, submitting paperwork on multiple occasions, making official inquiries into the status of the application and attempting to contact officials at the press regulatory authority.”
“Until now, Mada Masr has received no response regarding its legal status.”
International media organizations voiced their support in favor of Mada Masr, which has been described as Egypt’s “last bastion of free press” for its investigations critical of the Egyptian government.
“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the four Mada Masr journalists who have been detained by Egyptian police since this morning for questioning,” said Reporter Without Borders’ Middle East bureau.
According to the media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists, 25 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt in 2021, making the country the third-worst jailor of media workers worldwide.
Since El-Sisi rose to power in 2013, the government has cracked down on journalists and media. Restrictions on press freedom have resulted in many media outlets critical of the Egyptian government being blocked, shut down or forced to move abroad.
“The constant harassment, intimidation and arrests of journalists by Egypt’s government are reaching dangerous heights and must cease at once,” Reporter Without Borders said.