Lina Attalah, the editor of the Mada Masr website, was arrested outside Tora prison, south of Cairo, while interviewing the mother of a jailed activist trying to bring medicine and a hand sanitizer to her son.
Activist Abd El Fattah has been on a hunger strike since mid-April to protest the deterioration of prison conditions, including the risk of the spread of the coronavirus as well as the suspension of visits and hearings due to the pandemic.
Atallah was taken to a police station and detained for undisclosed facts, before she was questioned by a prosecutor. She was then sentenced to bail of 2,000 Egyptian pounds (£ 105).
Mada Masr said that Attalah’s cell phone was seized and media attorney was unable to see Atallah during his detention.
The journalist was recognized by Time magazine as a “new generation leader” in 2017 when she was called “the executioner of the Arab world”. Mada Masr is internationally recognized as the last bastion of press freedom in Egypt, a single, award-winning independent media outlet in a repressive media environment where the majority of newspapers are state-controlled.
Plainclothes security officials raided Mada Masr’s offices last November and Attalah was arrested. She was released following international pressure. Mada Masr’s website has been blocked in Egypt since May 2017, one of at least 500 blocked sites in the country.
Attalah’s arrest is part of a crackdown on Covid-19. Egyptian security forces arrested another journalist, Hassan Mahgoub, at his home in early May after reporting a series of stories about the virus. Atef Hasballah, an editor, was rounded up in the back of a police van and accused of joining a terrorist group in April after questioning official government statistics on Covid-19 on his Facebook page.
Egypt is considered one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, ranked 166th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.
Diaa Rashwan, head of the National Information Service of Egypt and head of the journalists’ union, did not respond when contacted for comment.
Timothy Kaldas, of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Politics and a long-time friend of Attalah, said: “The arrest of Lina is another example of Egypt’s continuing aggression against journalists. It is worrying that the latest round of repressions coincides with the Covid pandemic. Egyptian authorities can assume that this leaves foreign capitals distracted and unprepared to highlight concerns about political freedoms. A free press that the public can trust for information is all the more vital in a health crisis. “