An armed raid on a journalism NGO in Cairo today marks a dangerous escalation in the Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression and association, said Amnesty International.
Members of the security forces carrying guns and wearing masks stormed the office of the Mada Foundation for Media Development this morning and arrested all staff members present. The reasons for the raid are not clear but, according to information available to Amnesty International, security forces did not have a search or arrest warrant from the prosecutor’s office as required by Egyptian law.
“Carrying out an armed raid against an NGO which works to expand the skills of journalists sends a chilling and clear message that independent journalism and activities of civil society will not be tolerated in today’s Egypt. This is an unlawful assault and has all the hallmarks of yet another attempt to clamp down on independent journalism in the country,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“Media professionals and NGO workers should be able to carry out their legitimate work without fear, intimidation or harassment. The Egyptian authorities must explain why they attacked the NGO and immediately release anyone who is being detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Security forces stormed the NGO shortly after police in civilian clothes arrived at the offices asking to meet with the head of the organization, Hisham Gaffar. They broke into the safety deposit box and confiscated papers and equipment from the office. Female staff were later allowed to leave but around 20 male staff members including, cleaners, security guards and even a food delivery man are still under arrest in the building.
Hisham Gaffar was later taken to his home by security forces who proceeded to search it. When his son arrived at the office, security forces beat and arrested him.
The Egyptian authorities have an appalling track record of arbitrarily raiding NGOs, both under former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule and in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. NGOs have been attacked several times, with staff arrested and taken to unknown locations where they were ill-treated.
The Mada Foundation for Media Development is an NGO that works on capacity building for local journalists.