Egyptian authorities today arrested six al-Jazeera journalists as the government continues its media crackdown after a week of political protest in the country. The journalists were arrested and had their cameras and other broadcasting equipment seized by the military in Cairo earlier today, according to the satellite TV channel’s United Arab Emirates correspondent in Egypt, Dan Nolan.
“Four soldiers entered our room took our camera. [We are] under military arrest,” Nolan posted on Twitter just after midday UK time. “Unsure if arrested or about to be deported. Six of us held at army checkpoint outside Hilton hotel. Equipment seized too,” he added. Al-Jazeera later reported that Nolan and five other reporters were being detained by police.
Egyptian authorities yesterday took al-Jazeera off the air in the country, blaming the broadcaster for instigating the unprecedented country-wide protests against the president, Hosni Mubarak. The Arabic-language news channel today issued a plea for help from Egyptian bloggers and others to send in their eyewitness reports of the uprising, saying contributions had risen dramatically in the 24 hours it was forced off the air in Egypt.
“This call goes out to bloggers, citizen journalists, and anyone with a camera who has content to send,” Al-Jazeera said in a statement. “We’ve already made great use of social networking, and today we’ve found public contributions intensifying.” Al-Jazeera’s Cairo operations were shut down after it broadcast an interview with the popular cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who called on President Mubarak to leave the country.
The Qatar-based channel has faced interference with its transmission from Egypt since Friday, when authorities also shut down much of the country’s internet access. Al-Jazeera described the shutdown as an “act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists” and aimed at “censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people“.
Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the emir of Qatar, has been reporting the Egyptian unrest since it erupted early last week. Government supporters and other Arab leaders have accused the channel of fermenting Egyptian unrest with its round-the-clock coverage. Over the weekend, when protests rumbled on in Egypt’s largest cities while the blackout of the majority of internet communication in the country continued, al-Jazeera said its English-language online livestream had been viewed for more than 26m minutes in 12 hours on Saturday.
Al-Jazeera is the largest news broadcaster transmitting 24-hour coverage of the Egyptian uprising that is not wholly or in part owned by the country’s government. Journalists from a number of other organisations, including the Guardian, have been at the receiving end of rough treatment from the Egyptian police and army while covering the protests. The Guardian’s Jack Shenker was assaulted and arrested in Cairo last week, while the Times’s James Hilder was beaten and held at gunpoint over the weekend.
More than a dozen journalists have been arrested in Egypt since the protests began, according to the latest figures compiled by the international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. “The shutting down of al-Jazeera is a brazen violation of the fundamental right of Egyptians to receive information as their country is in turmoil,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.