Independent Egyptian news website Mada Masr has been referred to the country’s public prosecutor, and had its website blocked for six months, according to the online newspaper.
Egypt’s state media regulator, the Supreme Media Regulatory Council (SMRC), announced on Sunday that the actions had been taken against Mada Masr for “practising media activities without a licence” and “publishing false news without checking its sources”.
Lina Attalah, Mada Masr’s editor-in-chief, had attended a hearing with the state media regulator on Sunday regarding the website’s coverage of the Israel-Palestine war.
The regulator drew attention to Mada Masr’s coverage of Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip, including a report on 11 October that had discussed the possibility that Egypt might accept a number of Palestinians displaced to Egypt. According to that report, Egyptian authorities had already begun logistical preparations for setting up tents in the Sinai cities of Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah in the event of a mass exodus of Palestinians.
Citing government sources, the Mada Masr report added that Palestinians would not be permitted to enter El-Arish, the largest city in the Sinai peninsula, and would be forced to stay within a 14km buffer zone.
🔴 BREAKING: State media regulator refers Mada Masr to public prosecutor, blocks website for 6 months
Mada Masr will be referred to the Public Prosecution and its website will be blocked for six months for “practicing media activities without a license” and “publishing false… pic.twitter.com/VTmolEXf1o
— Mada Masr مدى مصر (@MadaMasr) October 29, 2023
On 18 October, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rejected the idea of the forced transfer of Palestinian civilians from Gaza into Sinai, saying Israel could send them to the Negev desert instead and that there would be “no compromise or negligence of Egypt’s national security under any circumstances”.
The SMRC described Mada Masr’s coverage as “based on fictitious anonymous sources” and as contravening “the ethics of journalistic honour, professionalism and credibility”.
The SMRC had previously announced that they had received complaints about Mada Masr inciting “harm to national security” through their coverage of Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
‘Last bastion of free press’
Mada Masr has long been targeted by Egyptian authorities.
In late 2019, police raided Mada Masr’s offices in Cairo and arrested three journalists, including Attalah, who was briefly detained again in May 2020.
In September 2022, Attalah and three journalists from Mada Masr were interrogated by judicial officers for allegedly “spreading false information”.
They were summoned following dozens of complaints from members of the pro-government Future of a Nation, the largest party in parliament, over an article published on 31 August 2022 accusing them of “serious financial infractions” that “should lead to their departure from the political scene”.
The journalists were charged with slander and defamation, using social media to harass the party members, and publishing false news intended to disturb the public peace and cause damage to the public interest, according to Mada Masr.
Mada Masr has been described as Egypt’s “last bastion of free press” and has published reports and investigations critical of Egypt’s government.
Like hundreds of news outlets, the website is blocked inside Egypt and can only be accessed with a VPN.
In 2021, Egypt ranked as the third-worst jailer of journalists, with 25 journalists in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.