Egyptian journalists speak out in support of held website editor

Reporters say Adil Sabry was targeted over the website’s coverage of Egypt elections and criticism of state authorities.

A news photographer with her mouth tapped and holds up her camera during a protest against the detention of Ahmed Ramadan, a photojournalist with Egyptian private newspaper "Tahrir", in Cairo
Masr al-Arabia is one of about 500 websites that have been blocked in Egypt in recent months [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Egyptian journalists have spoken out in support of a detained news website editor, saying state authorities targeted him over the outlet’s coverage of the country’s recent presidential elections.

Police in Cairo on Tuesday raided the office of the Masr al-Arabia news website and arrested its editor-in-chief, Adil Sabry.

He has since been held at Dokki police station, Mohamed Mounir, Masr al-Arabia’s managing editor, told Reuters news agency.

According to Masr al-Arabia, Sabry has been charged with operating a website without a local license.

The raid came two days after the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, an official oversight body, told the website to pay a $2,849 fine for republishing a New York Times article on alleged irregularities during last week’s vote.

Fellow journalists said they believe Sabry was targeted for the website’s coverage of the Egyptian elections and its criticism of state authorities.

“Masr al-Arabia’s editor-in-chief was arrested because the website is one of few independent news outlets in Egypt,” Kotb al-Arabi, an Egyptian journalist and media analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“Sabry was detained because the website’s coverage of the elections was critical and didn’t toe the official narrative,” he added.

The New York Times defended its reporting. “We stand by the accuracy of our reporting and strongly condemn any arrests meant to intimidate journalists and stifle freedom of the press,” said spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha.

A member of staff at Masr al-Arabia, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Al Jazeera that the news website was targeted because it had not “submitted to the regime”.

“The government wants no one but hypocrites. [Sabry was detained] because the website includes different voices and points of view … in addition to siding with the 25th of January Revolution,” the member of staff added, referring to the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule.

According to an account published on the website, security agents in civilian clothes entered the offices of Masr al-Arabia at 3:30pm local time and ordered journalists to turn over their computers. Staff members refused to hand over their devices without logging out of their emails, the outlet said.

Masr al-Arabia is one of about 500 websites that have been blocked in Egypt in recent months, although some are still accessible through virtual private networks. Rights groups say the closures amount to a crackdown against freedom of expression.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a United States-based watchdog, condemned Egypt for the crackdown on media outlets in the run-up to the elections.

“Egyptian authorities must stop intimidating and punishing journalists who have simply done their jobs,” its Middle East and North Africa coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a statement last week.

President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who ran virtually unopposed, secured a second term by winning 97 percent of the vote, according to official results.

Widening crackdown 

The news of Sabry’s detention came after the arrest and deportation from Egypt late last month of Bel Trew, a British reporter with the Times of London.

The newspaper has since denounced “the oppressive environment” for journalists created in the country by authorities before a presidential election.

According to Egyptian journalists, the crackdown on journalists in Egypt is likely to continue even after the completion of the elections.

“Sabry’s arrest is the latest in a series of measures taken [by the state] to stifle dissent as part of a widening crackdown on the media in Egypt,” said an Egyptian journalist, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

“It is an indication that the freedom of speech and the crackdown on journalists in Egypt will not east after the elections,” added the journalist, who is also a member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate.

The CPJ dubs Egypt “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists”.

With at least 20 journalists behind bars in relation to their work, Egypt is among the world’s top three jailers of journalists.

Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 161st out of 180 countries in its press freedom index.

Source: Al Jazeera