Al-Jazeera to take legal action against Egypt

Sep 12, 2013, 10:21 AM EDT
People walk in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

CAIRO (AP) — The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV is taking legal action in international courts against the Egyptian government for closing its offices, jamming its signals and arresting its reporters, the network said Thursday.

Al-Jazeera said it also appealed to the United Nations to "ensure that freedom of expression and freedom of the press do not die in Egypt."

The network has been facing a crackdown by the military-backed authorities in Egypt, part of a campaign against media perceived as supportive of the ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

An Egyptian court on Sept. 3 ordered Al-Jazeera's local affiliate to stop broadcasting, accusing it of hurting national security, "broadcasting lies" and vilifying the country's military.

Three other, pro-Islamist stations were also ordered shut in the same court decision. The main Brotherhood station was also taken off the air the day Morsi was ousted.

The offices of the local affiliate, Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, were raided after Morsi was deposed by the military on July 3, following days of street protests by millions against his rule. At the time, 28 staffers of the affiliate were detained and later released. And since August, at least two Al-Jazeera reporters have been in detention.

Two other Al-Jazeera offices in Cairo — the regional Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera English — were unaffected by the court ruling. But authorities have also closed in on their operations, deporting three members of an Al-Jazeera English crew, after detaining them for nearly a week, and accusing them of working illegally.

"Al-Jazeera cannot permit this situation to continue," the network said in an e-mailed statement, citing an unnamed spokesman under its standard practice.

Referring to the military-backed government that took over after Morsi, the statement said the new regime in Egypt has ignored the rights of journalists to report freely and "seems determined to silence all independent journalism and reporting in the country."

Egyptian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Al-Jazeera's local affiliate has extensively covered Brotherhood protests following the July 3 military coup that ousted Morsi and has also broadcast recorded messages from fugitive Brotherhood members sought by authorities.

While denying charges it is biased, the local affiliate has been running its studio operations from its headquarters in Doha, Qatar, and it has often relied heavily on amateur videos of protests and other events in Egypt. The station is broadcast on Egypt's state-run satellite NileSat, and it has complained that its signal has been heavily interfered with, so it has provided alternative signals through another Arab-owned satellite.

"Al-Jazeera has instructed lawyers to take all steps necessary worldwide to ensure that its journalists can operate freely in the country without fear of arbitrary arrest, assault, jamming or other forms of harassment and intimidation," the statement said.

The network's law firm, London-based Carter-Buck, said it was instructed to take action in international courts and before the U.N. and other relevant bodies "to protect its journalists and to safeguard its right to report freely." It was not clear which international bodies the network will be addressing and calls to the lawyers were not immediately returned.