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December 30, 2013

Egypt Arrests Al Jazeera Journalists

by Edward Yeranian

Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reports that four of its journalists were arrested after the Egyptian interior ministry accused them of broadcasting illegally from a Cairo hotel.

It's not the first time Egyptian security forces have detained journalists from Al Jazeera TV, but the latest arrests are creating anxiety among the international press corps.

The Egyptian interior ministry accused the four Al Jazeera English journalists, who were detained over the weekend, of meeting with Muslim Brotherhood figures. Egypt's interim government officially declared the opposition Brotherhood a “terrorist group” last week.

An Al Jazeera spokeswoman said the network asked Egyptian authorities to release the journalists since Al Jazeera has not officially been banned from operating in the country.

"Jazeera media network condemns the arbitrary arrests of the Al Jazeera English journalists Mohamed Fahmi, Peter Greste, Fahem Mohamed and Mohamed Fawzi, and we call on their immediate and unconditional release," said Aya Elwadia. "The Al Jazeera media network has been subject to harassment by Egyptian security forces which have arrested our colleagues, confiscated their equipment and raided our offices, despite that we're not officially banned from working there."

Egyptian media has been increasingly critical of foreign press organizations, especially Al Jazeera for what it claims is “biased reporting” in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posters denouncing the network can be seen in parts of Cairo, with the slogan "the camera lies."

Egyptian officials have accused Al Jazeera of exaggerating the size of demonstrations, overinflating casualty figures, and using incendiary language to create strife.

Veteran Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem believes Al Jazeera has “lost a great deal of prestige” in recent years by not maintaining neutral coverage, but says Egyptian officials went overboard in arresting the four journalists.

"It's a stupid mistake. In no way should the Egyptian government have responded in this way," Kassem said. "I don't think Egyptians need somebody to guide them like the Egyptian government is doing by denying Jazeera operations and I really think the station should be allowed to operate freely, with all my reservations against it and that it's become very biased and unprofessional.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that conditions "deteriorated dramatically” in Egypt in 2013. Six journalists were killed there in 2013.