The police raid came a day after Mada Masr editor Shady Zalat was arrested by Egyptian security forces.
Egyptian security forces raided the office of what is widely described as the country’s last independent news outlet on Sunday, Mada Masr said.
Five journalists, two of them foreign nationals, were taken into custody.
The raid marked the latest attack on press freedom in Egypt and came a day after security forces detained one of Mada Masr’s editors.
Founded in 2013, Mada Masr is perhaps the only remaining outlet in the country critical of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who seized power in a coup that year.
“Plainclothes security forces have raided Mada Masr’s office in Cairo,” the outlet said on its official Twitter account.
“Staff are currently being held inside, and their phones have been switched off,” it added. Human rights lawyers and other advocates including Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif were denied access to the office during the raid.
It was not until three hours later that journalists within the website’s Cairo office were able to communicate with the outside world.
“We have just gotten our phones and laptops back. Security forces left,” it said in a tweet at around 4:45 local time, explaining that security forces who refused to identify themselves had entered the office “by force”.
“They then gathered everyone’s ID cards and made people sit in containment in the newsroom. They wrote down everybody’s details, and asked some people in the office to unlock their phones and laptops,” Mada Masr said.
Five of the websites’s journalists had been detained, the website added.
Among those detained are Editor-in-Chief Lina Attallah and journalists Mohamed Hamama and Rana Mamdouh, who have reportedly been referred to the prosecution.
Ian Louie and Emma Scolding, both foreign nationals, were removed from the office seperately.
“Overhead they were being taken to their homes to get their passports,” Mada Masr said. “Might be deported.”
Also questioned by security forces were two reporters working for France24, present at the website’s office to interview Attallah about the recent arrest of one of the outlet’s editors.
Journalist Sharif Kouddous, a dual US-Egyptian national, was also said to be inside the building at the time of the raid, but has not been reported to be detained.
The raid came a day after the sudden arrest of editor Shady Zalat.
The Egyptian journalist was taken from his home early on Saturday morning by plain-clothes security forces who “did not identify themselves or present an arrest warrant”, the website said in a statement on Saturday.
“The officers detained Shady, confiscating his laptop, as well as his wife’s, and taking a number of documents related to his work,” it added.
The website’s lawyer said later on Saturday it was unclear where the journalist was being held.
“Shady’s detention is not legal,” Hassan al-Azhari said in a statement published by Mada Masr. “He hasn’t yet been referred to an investigative authority yet, a delay that is a common practice used by authorities in Egypt in targeting journalists and others.”
Activists have speculated that Zalat’s arrest and Sunday’s raid may be connected to a report critical of Sisi’s son published by the site earlier this week.
The article alleged the Egyptian president’s son, Mahmoud al-Sisi, had been sidelined for failing to manage his responsibilities as a senior intelligence official.
Instead of remaining in Cairo, Mahmoud Sisi will move to Egypt’s diplomatic mission in the Russian capital Moscow, the report said, citing unnamed Egyptian and Emirati sources.
Speaking to Mada Masr, one intelligence official said the president’s son had been blamed for mishandling a series of corruption allegations thrown against Sisi and the military in September. The accusations of endemic misappropriation of public funds by former military contracted Mohamed Ali resulted in weeks of unprecedented protests against Sisi.
Egypt is one of the world’s worst offenders against press freedom, according to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
The government has targeted independent media, banning more than 500 websites, including The New Arab and Mada Masr, and brought much of the press under state control.
While Mada Masr’s main site is banned in Egypt, residents of the country have until now been able to gain access to the website through mirror websites or a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
At least 25 journalists are imprisoned in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). At least seven journalists were detained during the September protests against President Sisi, CPJ added.
“We are often asked how we’re still able to work through the years of crackdown and pressure that have forced most media into closure or clear alignment with those in power,” Attallah said in a statement on Saturday evening.
“Journalists have no protection other than the integrity of their work and the value that others place in it. We are all in danger, and if we do not stand up, we will all be their prisoners. As Shady’s colleagues, our only option now is to fight for his safety and for our ability to continue to do our jobs.”