Egyptian authorities charge Mada Masr's Lina Attalah with 'publishing false news'

Egyptian authorities charge Mada Masr's Lina Attalah with 'publishing false news'
Earlier in December 2022, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Mada Masr to challenge an official rejection of the outlet's license.
3 min read
Egypt - Cairo
21 February, 2024
In 2020, award-winning journalist Lina Attalah was named among four influential Arab figures by Time magazine, [Getty]

In yet another attempt to supress freedom of expression in Egypt, a country ranked as the world's third-worst jailer of journalists, the editor-in-chief of independent online news outlet Mada Masr, Lina Attalah, is currently facing charges of "publishing false news" and "running a website without a license."

A Cairo prosecutor released Attalah on bail on Tuesday evening, 20 February, pending further investigations into the charges against her, after she underwent a nearly two-hour interrogation, the outlet said in a statement.

The award-winning journalist was initially expected to be questioned in December last year, but the interrogation was postponed for no apparent reason.

But Attalah received an official request for her presence before prosecuting authorities in Cairo, three days after the Cairo-based outlet had run, on 13 February, an investigative report about the alleged illegal role of powerful businessman Ibrahim El-Argany in the evacuation of distressed Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Egypt.

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Argany, known for reportedly having strong ties to the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has allegedly been linked to controlling the entry of humanitarian aid and relief efforts into the besieged strip bordering Egypt's North Sinai province amid the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza.   

If found guilty, Attalah is expected to face a maximum fine worth from one million to three million Egyptian pounds (about US$33,000 to US$100,000) for establishing a website without a license and up to a one-year-imprisonment for "publishing fake news," according to the Mada Masr lawyer Hassan Al-Azhari.

Mada Masr is arguably one of the few remaining free voices in Egypt over the past decade, which led the authorities to target its staff. The outlet is known for running investigative reports revealing alleged state irregularities.

Among other significant reports that Mada Masr ran in recent years was one about the president's son, senior intelligence officer Mahmoud El-Sisi. Since then, the feud between the authorities and Mada Masr is believed to have escalated.

In the month the report was published, November 2019, plain-clothed security forces raided the Mada Masr office and held three senior reporters inside the premises, including the editor-in-chief, Lina Attalah, and confiscated their laptops and mobile phones for several hours.     

In March last year, three Mada Masr reporters were referred to trial over allegedly offending lawmakers affiliated with a high-profile political party in a report published in August of the previous year.

Earlier in December 2022, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal by Mada Masr to challenge an officialrejection of the outlet's license to operate in Egypt.

Two months earlier, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation suspended the Mada Masr, already blocked in Egypt, for six months over allegedly "operating without a license, publishing fabricated news and inflicting harm on the national security."

Meanwhile, shortly after Tuesday's interrogation, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concerns about what it described as "the continuous legal harassment targeting the independent news website…and its editor-in-chief," calling on the Egyptian authorities to "halt the harassment of media outlets and journalists."

Atallah, named among four influential Arab figures by Time magazine in 2020, could not be reached for comment at the publication time.