General: Egypt: Journalist Lina Attalah arrested and released on bail
Lina Attalah (picture on the left), co-founder and chief editor of independent online newspaper MADA Masr, was arrested on 17 May 2020 outside Tora Prison as she was interviewing the mother of Alaa Abdel Fattah, an imprisoned activist in Egypt. Not two weeks after World Press Freedom Day, in which organisations and activists around the world called for protection of journalists, Attalah was arrested while trying to do her job.
Dr. Laila Soueif (picture on the right), the mother of Abdel Fattah, goes to the prison or the public prosecutor every day to try to get news of her son, with whom she has had no contact since he began a hunger strike 35 days ago. Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike since 12 April 2020, to protest inhumane conditions in Tora prison, along with his continued illegal detention since his arrest on 27 September 2019, and the restrictions on communications with his family.
After her arrest around noon, Attalah was taken to Maadi police station and accused of "filming a military facility [Tora Prison] without obtaining a license from the competent authorities," per Case No. 8009 of 2020. She was ordered to be released after seven hours on a bail of 2000 EGP (USD$127), but did not leave the police station until 11pm. This comes in the same month as the death of the detainee and filmmaker Shadi Habash who spent two years in prison awaiting trial until he died on May 2020. The conditions inside the prison are so dire that Habash was pleading for help in his messages to the outside world before his death.
With the current COVID-19 situation, imprisonment carries an even higher risk than usual. Prisons have been called the petri dishes for Coronavirus, because of how dangerous and easily transferrable the virus could be in those conditions. Attalah’s potential imprisonment therefore is not only an extreme attack on her rights but also puts her life in grave danger. “While I have experienced imprisonment in the past years, I cannot imagine being imprisoned under these conditions,” says GCHR’s Journalist protection coordinator Zaynab Al-Khawaja. “While the rest of the world is practicing social distancing, in Egyptian prisons you could be forced to share a cell with a dozen strangers, and have no access to cleaning materials or even medical care.”
Attalah was also arrested and interrogated on 24 November 2019, and was asked “Why go there? Why report on such things?” Afterwards, Attalah wrote in Mada Masr, “You may think we are brave, or so says our façade, but a lot of times we are scared, and its important to account for that.” That is the reality for many journalists in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where they bravely work every day with the fear of prosecution.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for all supporters, United Nations mechanisms and governments to call on Egypt to drop any charges against journalist Lina Attalah, and repeats its calls for the unconditional release of blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.
Please tweet your appeals to:
UN special procedures: @UN_SPExperts
United States State Department: @StateDept
United Kingdom Foreign Office: @FCOHumanRights