Court adjourns Mada Masr website blocking case until October 22

Mada Masr’s day in court came and went on Sunday, with an Administrative Court deciding to adjourn the investigation into the lawsuit concerning the company’s blocked website until October 22.

The lawsuit was originally filed with the State Council on June 6 against the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) for its failure to follow the proper administrative procedures after Mada Masr filed a complaint requesting that the body investigate who was responsible for the decision to block access to the company’s website on May 24.

Sunday’s court session is the second hearing in the case and was attended by Hassan al-Azhary, a lawyer at the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) who is representing Mada Masr. Azhary responded to the NTRA’s lawyer denial of responsibility in the administrative procedures that came during the last hearing on September 9, when the lawyer claimed that the Supreme Media Regulatory Council rather than the NTRA is in charge of administering a block in access to any website.

The NTRA lawyer stated that the authority does not have the technical expertise necessary to enforce the block and place responsibility for the decision at the feet of other entities, including unspecified national security bodies.

The NTRA has submitted a legal memo written by the authority’s head, requesting the court drop the case because it was filed by a party unrelated to the incident in question. The authority claims that the case file does not include any documents to prove that Mada Masr Media company owns Mada Masr news website.

In Sunday’s session, Azhary submitted a letter from Mada Masr’s website host, indicating that the website is experiencing problems, as users on Egyptian internet service providers are unable to access the site.

Azhary also argued that the NTRA is solely responsible for the block of the website, as it is “the only entity that can be asked about the reasons for blocking the site. If the NTRA is not the entity enforcing the block, it is must have been notified of the decision, as it is the executive entity responsible for anything related to communications.”

Azhary, who referred to court cases filed to contest the communications blackout during the January 25 revolution, added that Egypt’s media law obliges the NTRA to coordinate with security bodies that cut communications during natural disasters and cases of public mobilization. The law stipulates that, even if other security bodies decide to interrupt a communications network, the NTRA is mandated to enforce the order, Azhary told Mada Masr.

During the session, the judge demanded that the NTRA lawyer investigate the technical details related to the block and submit a report to the court during the next session.

Access to Mada Masr and 20 other websites was blocked in Egypt on May 24. The state-owned Middle East News Agency quoted “a senior security source” saying that the blocked websites “publish content that supports terrorism and extremism and intentionally propagate lies.”

No authority has claimed responsibility for the decision, and its legal basis has not been disclosed, despite complaints filed by the Journalists Syndicate on behalf of the several of the website that had been blocked with the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, the telecommunications minister and the NTRA.

According to AFTE, as of October 1, access to at least 434 platforms, including news websites, blogs, proxy and VPN service providers have been blocked on Egyptian service providers.

Access to the website of the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch was barred on September 7, one day after the international rights organization published a report on torture in Egypt.

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