Egypt’s security forces arrest editor-in-chief of independent media outlet

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Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, a prominent investigative media outlet in Egypt, participates in a panel discussion at cultural center in Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 24, 2017. (AP Photo)

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

Mada Masr, one of a shrinking number of independent news websites in Egypt, said Lina Attalah was arrested outside Cairo’s Tora prison complex during an interview with Laila Soueif, the mother of jailed activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.

“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 Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“We knew afterward that she was taken to a police station in Maadi district and that she will appear before the prosecution tomorrow (Monday) morning,” he said.

Azhari added that the reason behind the arrest and the charges against Attallah remained unclear.

Amnesty International called Attalah’s detention a “shocking development,” and called for her to be “immediately and unconditionally released.”

Abdel Fattah served a five-year prison sentence for violating Egypt’s protest ban. In September, not long after his release, he was arrested again amid a widespread crackdown that followed small protests demanding current President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi step down – although he did not participate in the protests.

The activist went on a hunger strike over a month ago, and his family has been struggling to get him released in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Soueif was briefly arrested in March along with three others after they staged a protest to demand the release of prisoners amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Mada Masr is one of the hundreds of websites blocked by the Egyptian government in recent years. The outlet has continued to publish through mirror sites. It has produced investigative pieces looking into some of Egypt’s government institutions, including the intelligence agencies, military and presidency.

El-Sissi’s government has repeatedly harassed Mada Masr and its journalists. In November, security forces raided its offices, briefly detaining Attalah and two other journalists and later releasing them.

The November raid came just a day after Mada Masr said security forces arrested one of its editors, Shady Zalat, from his home in Cairo. Zalat was later released.

Attallah’s detention is the latest in a widening government crackdown on dissent and media. Earlier this month a local journalist and freelance photographer were arrested on charges of joining and financing a “terrorist group” as well as spreading “fake news” that threatens national security.

In recent years, Egypt has imprisoned dozens of reporters and occasionally expelled some foreign journalists.

El-Sissi, a general-turned-president, has overseen an unprecedented political crackdown, silencing critics and jailing thousands. As defense minister, he led the military’s removal in 2013 of Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, after Morsi’s one-year rule proved divisive and sparked massive nationwide protests.

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 the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

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

The country ranks 166th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index.

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