Mada Masr’s blocked website case adjourned to petition new state authorities

An administrative court adjourned a Sunday hearing in the lawsuit filed by Mada Masr against the blocking of its website until December 24, to inform several high-ranking state authorities that they have been added to the case.

The lawyer representing Mada Masr Media requested that the court add the president of Egypt, the defense minister, deputy head of the General Intelligence Service, the interior minister and head of the Supreme Media Regulatory Council as respondents in the case.

The request was filed after the initial respondents, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority and the communication and information technology minister, denied responsibility for administering the block on access to a number of websites from some Egyptian internet service providers. According to Hassan al-Azhary, a lawyer at the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) who is representing Mada Masr, both parties suggested a national security agency or the Supreme Media Regulatory Council may be the executor of the block.

Article 1 of the communication law (Law 10/2003) designates national security agencies as: the presidency, the Interior Ministry, the General Intelligence Services and Administrative Control Authority. According to Article 64 of the law, the Armed Forces are also considered an agency concerned with national security, when it comes to technical capabilities that include: telecommunications equipment, systems and programs.

Azhary said that Mada Masr Media has contested the use of Article 64 as irrelevant in the case, as it regulates the surveillance of data, but contains no provisions for the banning or blocking of access.

Copies of Mada Masr Media’s commercial registration documents were also submitted to the court, alongside a letter from the website host, demonstrating the company’s ownership of the blocked website to confirm its legal position.

The Sunday court session was attended by the NTRA lawyer and a lawyer from the State Lawsuits Authority, who was representing the Communication and Information Technology Ministry.

In an October 22 court session, the ministry’s lawyer had claimed that the NTRA was solely responsible for administering the block on access to websites. During the same session the authority’s lawyer refuted these claims, denying any responsibility for the website blocks, adding that Mada Masr Media had not yet proved its ownership of the Mada Masr website.

The lawsuit was filed on June 6, and demanded a copy of the official decision to block the website, if indeed one had been taken. Mada Masr Media also demanded formal clarification of the administrative and technical justifications for the block on access to the website, and the removal of all technical obstacles preventing users from reaching it.

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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