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Detained journalists freed following raid on office of Egypt's 'last independent news outlet' Open in fullscreen

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Detained journalists freed following raid on office of Egypt's 'last independent news outlet'

Observers have speculated the raid was prompted by an article critical of Sisi's son [Twitter]

Date of publication: 24 November, 2019

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Four of Mada Masr's journalists were detained this weekend, just days after the website published an expose looking at the role of Sisi's son.
Four Egyptian journalists detained this weekend in an attack on one of the country's last critical news outlets have been freed, Mada Masr said on Sunday evening.

Shady Zalat, an editor for Mada Masr, was arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning, while Editor-in-Chief Lina Attallah, as well as journalists Mohamed Hamama and Rana Mamdouh were detained during a raid on the website's Cairo office on Sunday afternoon.

Unidentified, plain-clothes security forces forcibly entered the website's office on Sunday, confiscating the phones and laptops of journalists and preventing anyone from leaving or entering the office.

Zalat, who was held incommunicado for around 40 hours, was abruptly released out on to one of the capital's streets on Sunday evening, Mada Masr said in a tweet.

Attallah, Hamama and Mamdouh were released from Cairo's Dokki police station shortly after, the website said. Their release came around five hours after the raid on Mada Masr's headquarters began. 

Two foreign nationals working for the website, Ian Louie and Emma Scolding, had also been questioned by the security forces. An initial post by the news outlet suggested their imminent deportation was feared - the fate of several foreign correspondents working in Egypt in recent years - but both were released shortly after.

Death blow to press freedom

Founded in 2013, Mada Masr is known to many as the last independent news outlet in Egypt, one of the world's worst offenders against press freedom, according to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Analysts and activists who cover Egypt have condemned the security forces detention of five of the outlet's journalists, fearing that further attacks against the investigative site may signal the death blow to press freedom in the country.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who took power in a coup in 2013, the government has targeted independent media, banning more than 500 websites, including The New Arab, Al-Jazeera and Mada Masr, and brought much of the rest of the press under state control

Despite being blocked, Mada Masr has continued to publish journalism that has won international praise, with Egyptians only able to access its articles through mirror websites or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). That international notoriety seemed to have incubated the website and its staff from the more serious attacks inflicted on other members of the Egyptian press until now.

Many fear that, despite being quickly released from detention, Mada Masr's journalists will face further repercussions for their independent and critical coverage of Egypt under Sisi.

"Journalists have no protection other than the integrity of their work and the value that others place in it. We are all in danger, and if we do not stand up, we will all be their prisoners," Attallah said in a statement on Saturday evening, made in response to Zalat's arrest.

A possible trigger

Observers have pointed to one article in particular that may have triggered the raid on Mada Masr's staff and office.

Published on Thursday, the article alleged the Egyptian president's son, Mahmoud al-Sisi, had been sidelined for failing to manage his responsibilities as a senior intelligence official.

Instead of remaining in Cairo, Mahmoud Sisi will be moved to Egypt's diplomatic mission in the Russian capital Moscow as a military attache, the report said, citing unnamed Egyptian and Emirati sources.

Speaking to Mada Masr, one intelligence official said the president's son had been blamed for mishandling a series of corruption allegations thrown against Sisi and the military in September.

The accusations of endemic misappropriation of public funds by former military contracted Mohamed Ali resulted in weeks of unprecedented protests against Sisi.

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