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Urgent matters court rules it does not have jurisdiction in lawsuit to ban BBC website

Deciding on a lawsuit that would have stripped British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) employees in Cairo of their work authorization and blocked the broadcasting corporation’s website in Egypt is out of its jurisdiction, the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters stated in a Wednesday ruling.

In the draft of its decision, a copy of which Mada Masr obtained, the court concluded that ruling on this case would necessitate “comprehensive, objective research, as well as access to various sources of evidence,” both of which fall beyond the jurisdiction of a court of urgent matters.

Lawyer Mohamed Hamed Salem filed the lawsuit before the court of urgent matters in March, following the February 23 publication of a five-part report on social, political, and human rights during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s first term in office.

The report by journalist Orla Guerin, titled “The Shadow Over Egypt,” details stories of torture, forced disappearances and activist arrests, as told through the eyes of victims’ family members, lawyers and human rights activists. Guerin’s report was accompanied by a short documentary on the same subject titled Crushing Dissent in Egypt, which aired on BBC World and BBC News Channel on February 24 and 25.

The BBC report highlighted the story of a Zubeida, a 23-year-old woman who was allegedly forcibly disappeared by Egyptian authorities for the second time in April 2017. In an interview that appears in Crushing Dissent in Egypt, Zubeida’s mother says she has no doubt the police took her daughter away. “Neighbours told us that armed and masked men came in a police vehicle and took her away in a minibus. They had been to our old house, inquiring about her, several times.”

However, Zubeida sat for an interview with TV presenter Amr Adib on February 26, alongside her husband and child. In the interview, she denied that she had been tortured or forcibly disappeared.

Salem’s lawsuit contends that the BBC “broadcast a report of lies and allegations regarding the forced disappearance of a girl named Zubeida. Shortly thereafter, the girl appeared alongside her husband and daughter and completely denied having been subject to any form of torture or forced disappearance.” The lawsuit also stated that the BBC has consistently sought to delay and evade taking action on this matter, repeatedly affirming the validity of what it broadcast about Zubaida.

“I filed the lawsuit because I saw a threat surrounding Egypt, and I felt it was necessary to combat the BBC’s attack on Egypt,” Salem said in comments to the press following Wednesday’s verdict.

The lawyer stated that he believes that the court did not “sense the same danger,” however, and it rushed to rule that it did not have jurisdiction over this matter, due to failing to meet the necessary benchmark for urgency.

“We are very happy with the verdict, because we have worked in Egypt for years in accordance with Egyptian laws and based on established editorial rules, which we are proud of,” the head of BBC office in Cairo Safaa Faisal told Mada Masr.

Faisal added that BBC office in Cairo is one of the largest foreign offices and one of the most strategic offices in the Middle East, due to Egypt’s vital location.

The report sparked controversy, with Egypt’s State Information Services, which criticized the BBC in a statement released on February 26.

In March, security forces arrested Zubeida’s mother, accusing her of “spreading false news and joining an illegal group.”

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