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Egypt arrests website editor for reposting New York Times article

Security agents raid the offices of Masr al-Arabia amid ongoing crackdown on journalists and media outlets
Masr al-Arabia is one of about 500 websites that have been blocked in Egypt recently (Reuters)

Egyptian police raided the office of Masr al-Arabia news website late on Tuesday and arrested its editor-in-chief, the media outlet reported.

The raid came two days after the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, an official oversight body, told the website to pay a $2,849 fine for republishing a New York Times article on alleged irregularities during last week's presidential election.

According to an account published on the website, security agents in civilian clothes entered the offices of Masr al-Arabia at 3:30pm local time and ordered journalists to turn over their computers. Staff members refused to hand over their devices without logging out of their emails, the outlet said.

Adel Sabry, the website's editor-in-chief, was arrested and is being held at Dokki police station in greater Cairo, Masr al-Arabia's managing editor Mohamed Mounir told Reuters. The website said Sabry is being charged with operating a website without a local licence.

A statement from the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, which was based on a complaint from the national election authority, had on Sunday accused the website of publishing false news.

"The website should have checked the authenticity of the news or commented on it with an opinion," the statement said, referring to the New York Times article, which said some voters were offered payments and other inducements to vote.

The New York Times defended its reporting. "We stand by the accuracy of our reporting and strongly condemn any arrests meant to intimidate journalists and stifle freedom of the press," said spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha.

A security source at the police station said Sabry was being held prior to appearing before a prosecutor. Sabry is accused of running a news website without a permit, the source added.

Masr al-Arabia is one of about 500 websites that have been blocked in Egypt in recent months, although some are still accessible through virtual private networks. Rights groups say the closures amount to a crackdown against freedom of expression.

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The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, condemned Egypt for the crackdown on media outlets during the elections.

"Egyptian authorities must stop intimidating and punishing journalists who have simply done their jobs," its Middle East and North Africa coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a statement last week.

"If the government truly conducted free and fair elections, then it should welcome the scrutiny of the press, rather than trying to intimidate reporters."

Authorities say curbing fictitious news is necessary for national security.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won a second term with 97 percent of the votes on a turnout of 41 percent, official results showed on Monday.

Some voters have said they were offered incentives to cast their ballots including money and food, local and international media reported, without saying who had made the offers. Officials said that if any such incidents took place they were not state-sponsored and extremely limited.

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