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Egypt raids one of its last independent news publications, and detains some of its journalists

The office of Mada Masr, one of the last independent news outlets in Egypt, was raided by security forces on Sunday, according to its journalists. Four of the website’s staff have been detained.

A statement posted on Mada Masr’s official Twitter account said the raid started at around 1:30 p.m. local time, when “plainclothes security forces entered the Mada Masr office by force.”

“They immediately began confiscating everybody’s laptops and phones. When asked who they were, they aggressively refused to answer.” The journalists said they got their phones and laptops back just before 5 p.m. local time.

“Security forces left. Lina Attalah, Mohamed Hamama, and Rana Mamdouh have been taken to the prosecution, according to one of the men who entered our offices,” the statement said.

Attalah is the news outlet’s editor-in-chief, while Hamama and Mamdouh are journalists.

Mada Masr’s news editor, Shady Zalat, was taken by Egyptian security forces from his home in Cairo early on Saturday, the publication said.

According Mada Masr, all four journalists were released on Sunday.

Before her detention, Attalah said in a statement that “journalists have no protection other than the integrity of their work and the value that others place in it.”

“We are all in danger, and if we do not stand up, we will all be their prisoners. As Shady’s colleagues, our only option now is to fight for his safety and for our ability to continue to do our jobs.”

According to Mada Masr, two freelance translators, Ian Louie and Emma Scolding, and two crew members from the French TV network France 24 were present in the office and questioned during the raid. The crew had arrived to film an interview with Attalah about Zalat’s detention.

Elazahry said Louie and Scolding were allowed to return to their apartments. “I’m not sure if they were given a time limit collect their stuff to be deported,” he added.

According to Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, representatives from the French Embassy tried to enter the offices but were not allowed in by the security and lawyers.

Mada Masr said earlier that Zalat was taken after four plainclothes security officers entered his apartment early on Saturday. Without presenting an arrest warrant, they confiscated his and his wife’s laptops and several work documents before detaining him.

They returned to Zalat’s apartment several minutes later to look for his cellphone and upon retrieving it told his wife he was being taken to the Giza security directorate, Mada Masr said.

However, Mada Masr’s lawyer Hassan al-Azhari was told Zalat was not at the Giza security directorate when he went to check on him.

CNN has reached out to Egyptian authorities for comment.

Amnesty International has condemned the raid, tweeting: “In a serious escalation, security forces in Egypt have raided the office of independent media outlet Mada Masr. Security forces must vacate the premises and refrain from punishing journalists for doing their legitimate work. #Journalismisnotacrime”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) describes Egypt as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.” The organization has ranked the country 163 out of 180 in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

“The press freedom situation has become more and more alarming under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,” RSF said.

Sisi was the defense minister during the 2013 coup that removed President Mohamed Morsy from power. Sisi was elected president in 2014. And while he initially promised to stick to the two four-year terms mandated in Egypt’s constitution, he has since secured legislative changes that tightened his grip on power and extended his term in office.

Mada Masr’s past investigations have exposed corruption, security violations and the inner workings of the government, despite the increasing restrictions on reporting in Egypt.

Last week, the website reported that the son of el-Sisi was removed from the General Intelligence Services, where he held a senior role, and assigned to the diplomatic mission in Moscow.

Its website is blocked in Egypt — one of more than 500 sites that have been blocked since the summer of 2017, according to RSF.

CNN