Egyptian police raided the office of a news website and arrested its editor-in-chief, according to three of its journalists, including its managing editor.
The raid earlier this week came two days after the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, an official oversight body, told the website, Masr al-Arabia, to pay 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,849) as a fine for republishing a New York Times article on alleged irregularities during last week’s presidential election.
Two journalists at the website quoted the site’s lawyers as saying that police said they had acted because the website did not have a permit to operate. They said the raid was prompted by the republishing of the article.
A statement from the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, which was based on a complaint from the national election authority, on Sunday accused the website of publishing false news.
“The website should have checked the authenticity of the news or commented on it with an opinion,” the Council statement said, referring to The New York Times article, which said some voters were offered payments and other inducements to vote.
Defending its reporting, Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Hasaid said: “We stand by the accuracy of our reporting and strongly condemn any arrests meant to intimidate journalists and stifle freedom of the press.”
Adel Sabry, the website’s editor-in-chief, was arrested and is being held at Dokki police station in greater Cairo, Mohamed Mounir, Masr al-Arabia’s managing editor, told Reuters.
A security source at the police station said Sabry was being held prior to appearing before a prosecutor. Sabry is accused of running a news website without a permit, the source added.
The office of the website was closed and “sealed with red wax”, the three journalists said.
Masr al-Arabia is one of about 500 websites that in recent months have been blocked in Egypt, although some are still accessible through virtual networks. Rights groups say the closures amount to a crackdown against freedom of expression.
Authorities say curbing fictitious news is necessary for national security.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won a second term with 97 percent of the votes on a turnout of 41 percent, official results showed earlier this week.
Some voters have said they were offered incentives to cast their ballots including money and food, local and international media reported, without saying who had made the offers. Officials said that if any such incidents took place they were not state-sponsored and extremely limited.