A well-known Egyptian journalist, Lina Attalah, was arrested on Sunday by security forces while interviewing the mother of a political prisoner outside Cairo’s Tora Prison. Attalah is editor in chief of one of Egypt’s last few independent media outlets, Mada Masr, in a country whose leadership under President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has seen a dramatic curtailing of media freedoms.
She is not the first journalist to face intimidation and harassment.
Attalah was later ordered released on bail of about US$126 after news of her arrest spread on social media, prompting widespread condemnation of her detention.
She is not the first journalist to face intimidation and harassment. In December 2019, twenty-two journalists were arrested for reporting on protests demanding el-Sisi’s removal from power, the largest wave of arrests since 2014. Egyptian authorities justify these arrests by accusing the journalists in question of promoting “fake news”, misusing social media, or supporting terrorist groups.
Wide-Ranging Anti-Terrorism Law
Egypt’s continual struggle with terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere became the pretext for a highly controversial anti-terrorism law passed in 2015, whose broad definition of terrorism allowed the government to impose hefty fines on any media publication that allegedly issues “false” reports on counter-terrorism or military operations.
Media-freedom activists in Egypt characterized the law as draconian and expressed fears that it would shut down smaller news outlets or invite self-censorship. In February this year, an amendment to this law removed mentions of satellite TV channels, radio stations, and social media accounts from the definition of terrorism acts, a decision viewed with skepticism and derided as a “charade” by lawyers and free-speech advocates. They argue the law still gives enough leeway to the state to designate journalists it disapproves of as terrorists or being responsible for incitement to terrorist acts.