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Editor-in-chief of prominent independent news site detained in Egypt

Lina Attalah, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Egyptian independent media outlet Mada Masr, speaking at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in June 2018.
Lina Attalah, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Egyptian independent media outlet Mada Masr, speaking at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in June 2018. © Ronka Oberhammer, DW (Creative Commons)

Egyptian security services on Sunday detained the editor-in-chief of prominent independent news outlet Mada Masr, its lawyer said, the latest in a crackdown against journalists. 

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Lina Attallah was arrested outside Cairo’s Tora prison as she was interviewing rights activist Laila Soueif, mother of jailed activist Alaa Abdel Fattah who recently began a hunger strike.

“The prison security guards asked Attallah to show her identification card and later called her in for an investigation that lasted three hours,” lawyer Hassan al-Azhari told AFP.

He said she was later taken a police station and was expected to appear before the prosecution Monday morning, adding the reason for her arrest and charges remained unclear.

Later on Sunday, Mada Masr tweeted that the prosecution ordered Attallah’s release on bail of 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($127).

Atallah was sent back to Maadi police station to finalise her release procedures, it said.

Mada Masr is an online outlet that investigates corruption and security issues in both Arabic and English.

Its website has been blocked in Egypt in recent years along with hundreds of others including many critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.

VPNs and other mirror sites are often used to bypass the block.

Deepening crackdown

Attalah’s arrest comes as a range of human rights and press freedom groups have warned of a deepening crackdown on press freedom in Sisi’s Egypt.

“Since 2016, the authorities in Egypt have subjected dozens of journalists and other media workers to a catalogue of violations just for doing their jobs or expressing their views. Dozens of journalists have been arbitrarily detained on spurious ‘terrorism’-related charges or had their workplaces raided,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director in a statement earlier this month.

In November, security forces raided Mada Masr’s offices in Cairo and questioned journalists there. Attallah and others were briefly detained.

On Sunday, the Committee to Protect Journalists called for Attallah's release.

“We hold Egyptian authorities directly responsible for Lina Attalah's freedom and Alaa Abdelfattah's health,” said its Middle East and North Africa coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

The New York-based organisation said Thursday that Egyptian authorities arrested journalist Haitham Mahgoub who works for a local privately-owned newspaper.

Citing his lawyer, it said Mahgoub faced charges of spreading false news and joining and funding a terrorist group.

In March, British newspaper The Guardian said its reporter in Egypt was forced to leave after her credentials were revoked over a report on coronavirus infections in the country.

Egypt has increasingly targeted journalists in an ongoing crackdown against dissidents since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The clampdown has swept up thousands of the late Morsi’s Islamist supporters as well as secular activists, lawyers and academics.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says at least 29 journalists are being held in jail in Egypt, which ranks 166th out of 180 countries in its 2020 world press freedom index.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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