Lina Attalah, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of independent Egyptian news outlet Mada Masr, was arrested on May 17, Sunday, outside the Tora prison complex. She was later released on bail. Attalah was arrested by the by the Egyptian Security Services while conducting an interview with Laila Soueif, the mother of jailed Egyptian activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah. The activist has has been on a hunger strike for the past 35 days to protest the government’s decision to suspend lawyer visits and court sessions as part of the preventive measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mada Masr, security officials outside the Tora prison asked the journalist to show them her identification card, confiscated her phone and then arrested her at 12 pm. She was then taken to the Maadi police station and interrogated for more than three hours before the Maadi prosecutor’s office ordered her release. She was ordered to post a bail amounting to 2000 Egyptian pounds (USD 127).
The authorities also refused to allow her access to her lawyer, and did not disclose the reason for her abrupt and extrajudicial arrest.
Denouncing her arrest, Mada Masr posted a message on its Facebook page saying, “Mada Masr Editor-in-chief Lina Attalah was arrested for nothing more than doing journalism. We hold authorities responsible for her well-being and call for her immediate and unconditional release.”
The news of Attalah’s arrest led to concern and condemnation from journalists and press freedom advocates around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement on its website also demanded her immediate and unconditional release.
Mada Masr, hailed as the “last bastion of free press” in Egypt, has been subjected to several illegal and oppressive measures by the government under president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as part of the intensive ongoing media crackdown. In November 2019, the offices of Mada Masr were raided and ransacked by Egyptian police, and phones, laptops and other property of the news outlet were illegally confiscated.
Mada Masr is one of more than 500 news websites which are currently banned from reporting and publishing inside Egypt. Most of the news outlets in the country are banned from publishing any articles and reports which are critical of the government or expose its excesses, wrongdoings and the widespread and brutal suppression of civil and human rights in the country.