March 16, 2023
The undersigned civil society organisations condemn the Public Prosecution’s decision to refer Bissan Kassab, Rana Mamdouh, and Sarah Seif Eldin, three female journalists from independent Egyptian media outlet Mada Masr, to the Economic Court in Mansoura, Dakahlia Governorate on charges of insulting members of parliament (MPs) of the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party and misusing social media.
The organisations call on the Egyptian authorities to drop all the charges levelled against the three journalists, and stop the crackdown on independent media outlets and their staff.
The case started when Mada Masr published a report on 31 August 2022 quoting sources within the Mostaqbal Watan Party as saying that state oversight agencies had implicated senior members of the party in “grave financial violations” that could result in their removal from their positions. This prompted party members to file hundreds of complaints in different geographical areas against the outlet.
On 7 September 2022, the prosecution summoned the three journalists, in addition to the website’s editor-in-chief Lina Atallah, for interrogation over at least 500 complaints that had been filed and that were included in Case No. 19 of 2022 (Cairo Appeals Investigations). The chief appeal prosecutor noted that up to 800 other complaints had not been included in the case.
The prosecution charged the journalists with spreading false news that would disturb public peace and harm the public interest, causing a disturbance via social media, and insulting and slandering the MPs of the Mostaqbal Watan Party. The prosecution also levelled an additional charge against Atallah of creating a website without a license. This is despite the fact that Mada Masr has submitted several requests for a license, but the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) has ignored all of them. During the investigation, the SCMR told the Public Prosecution for the first time that it had rejected the outlet’s licensing requests.
After the interrogation concluded, the Public Prosecution released the journalists on a bail of 20,000 Egyptian pounds for Atallah, and 5,000 pounds for each of the other three journalists. Despite this, complaints did not stop, and the journalists have not previously been investigated or even notified of this complaint.
A citizen filed a complaint at the Kafr Saqr police station in Sharqia Governorate, accusing the Mada Masr journalists of insulting leaders of the Mostaqbal Watan Party and offending national leaders, which could threaten the stability and societal peace in the country.
In a related context, on March 22, the Administrative Court is considering Mada Masr's appeal against the Supreme Council for Media Regulation's decision to refuse to license the website despite meeting the license conditions and applying for it more than four years ago.
These measures against Mada Masr occur as part of the ongoing crackdown on independent media outlets and the intimidation of journalists to prevent them from performing their work freely in Egypt. This crackdown has included the continued blocking of news websites, the imprisonment of journalists, and the rejection of licensing requests for news websites. These actions send a message that the Egyptian authorities’ declared intentions to reportedly improve the human rights situation in the country are not serious.
The undersigned organisations come together to condemn the Mostaqbal Watan Party’s harassment of Mada Masr journalists through legal prosecution, instead of requesting a response and publishing the party’s rebuttal to what was mentioned in their report. The undersigned also condemn Egyptian judicial authorities’ move to refer these complaints to trial, in a measure that constitutes an unjustified escalation and places more restrictions on journalists’ right to access and publish information.
The undersigned call on Egyptian judicial authorities to close investigations into all cases and complaints filed against Mada Masr and its journalists and to drop all the charges levelled against them. The Supreme Council for Media Regulation should also grant a license to the Mada Masr website.
Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expression (AFTE), Access Now, Andalus institute for tolerance, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Committee for Justice, CIVICUS, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR), Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF), EgyptWide for Human Rights, EuroMed Rights, El Nadeem Center, FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement, Human Rights Watch, Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms, IFEX, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), MENA Rights Group, New Woman Foundation, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), PEN International, Refugee's platform in Egypt (RPE), Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), The Freedom Initiative, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, WHRDMENA Coalition, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders