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Three senior members of Egypt news outlet detained after raid on HQ

Detentions until evening release came after Mada Masr staff held in newsroom for hours. Raid follows article on president's son
A general view of Cairo on 28 January 2019, home to the raided premises of Mada Masr (AFP)

Plainclothes security forces stormed the offices of Mada Masr in Cairo on Sunday and detained three senior journalists after holding the staff for hours inside the premises, the news media outlet said in a tweet.

Mada Masr, an independent news media website critical of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government, said the security forces refused to identify themselves, rounded up the staff and held them in the newsroom.

They also confiscated the laptops and phones of staff members, asking some of them to unlock their devices.

"They collected staff members' IDs and their personal information and held them in the newsroom," Mada Masr said in a statement.

It said that the news outlet's editor-in-chief Lina Attallah and managing editor Mohamed Hamama were questioned for three hours by different men, before more security officers showed up and took them away along with reporter Rana Mamdouh.

"A plainclothes officer told the rest of the staff that the three colleagues were being taken to the prosecution," the statement said, adding that the officer had also refused to identify himself.

"Eyewitnesses saw Mada Masr staff escorted into microbuses parked outside of the office. One of the microbuses stopped at Dokki Police Station," Mada Masr said, adding that the rest of the staff was released.

The officers also questioned Ian Louie and Emma Scolding, American and British members, respectively, of the outlet's English section.

Attallah, Hamama and Mamdouh were later released from Dokki police station, Mada Masr said early Sunday evening in Cairo.

The raid on the Mada Masr premises came after the news outlet published an article on Wednesday stating that the president was removing his son, Mahmoud el-Sisi, from his role of overseeing the intelligence service and sending him on an assignment to the Egyptian embassy in Moscow.

The report said that senior officials were concerned at the son's efforts in handling the news media, among other aspects of his work.

Voices of opposition

Earlier in the day, when the news outlet first reported on the raid, it said that lawyer Mahmoud Osman was not allowed to enter the office. 

The raid came a day after a Mada Masr editor, Shady Zalat, was detained from his home early on Saturday by security forces in plainclothes who did not identify themselves or present an arrest warrant.

The security forces confiscated Zalat's laptop, phone and work documents. 

Hours after the raid took place, Zalat was released from detention, Mada Masr said in a tweet without further details on the conditions of his release.

Many Egyptian activists, journalists and regular citizens had taken to Twitter to call for Zalat's release, and also to post and share updates on Sunday's raid as information trickled in.

"Lina Atallah, Yasmine Rafei, Hussam Bahgat, and probably Sherif Abdel-Qudous, are detained with others inside the Mada Masr office," Mona Seif, sister of prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah who is currently in detention, said in a tweet. "We are in front of the door and one of the security [forces] is telling us to leave." 

Seif, like others, called on people to share the Mada Masr article believed to be behind the raid. 

Mada Masr also said that the raid happened as a France 24 crew was at the offices filming an interview with Attallah about Zalat's detention. Two members of the crew were questioned, the statement said without giving their names. 

Representatives of the French embassy headed to the premises and spent an hour outside the offices but were prevented from entering, the statement said.

President Sisi's government has led a brutal crackdown on dissent and opposition voices since coming to power in a 2013 military coup that removed Egypt's first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi.

Mada Masr publishes critical reports about the government and security agencies and is one of hundreds of websites blocked by the Egyptian government in recent years.