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Egypt: Mada Masr journalists charged with spreading 'false' news

Four journalists are accused of harassing members of a political party and publishing information intended to disturb the public
(R-L) Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah, journalists Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh pose in front the Cairo Appeals Prosecution after being released on bail (Mada Masr)
(R-L) Mada Masr editor-in-chief Lina Attalah, journalists Beesan Kassab, Sara Seif Eddin and Rana Mamdouh pose in front of the Cairo Appeals Prosecution after being released on bail (Mada Masr)

The editor-in-chief and three journalists from independent Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr were interrogated by judicial officers on Wednesday for allegedly "spreading false information", the publication said in a statement.

Mada Masr editor Lina Attalah and journalists Rana Mamdouh, Sara Seif Eddin and Beesan Kassab were released on bail on Wednesday evening after being questioned at the Cairo Appeals Prosecution.

They were summoned following dozens of complaints from members of the pro-government Future of a Nation, the largest party in parliament, over an article published on 31 August accusing them of "serious financial infractions" that "should lead to their departure from the political scene".

The journalists were charged with slander and defamation, 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, according to Mada Masr.

Attalah also faces charges of operating a website without a licence.

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Mada Masr said in its statement that it has been trying to obtain a licence since 2018, including submitting paperwork on several occasions and making official inquiries, but it still has received no response regarding its legal status.

'Bastion of free press'

Mada Masr has been described as Egypt's "last bastion of free press" and has published reports and investigations critical of Egypt's government. Like hundreds of news outlets, the website is blocked inside Egypt and can only be accessed with a VPN. 

In late 2019, police raided its offices in Cairo and arrested three journalists, including Attalah, who was briefly detained again in May 2020.

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International NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday 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."

In 2021, Egypt ranked as the third-worst jailer of journalists, with 25 journalists in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Since Sisi came to power in a military coup in 2013, his government has been accused of overseeing the worst crackdown on human rights in the country's modern history. Thousands have been jailed, tortured and forcibly disappeared, while others have been forced to live in exile for fear of repression. 

Around 65,000 political prisoners are estimated to be languishing in jail, with at least 26,000 of those held in pre-trial detention, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

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