Reporters Without Borders condemns the raid carried out by the Egyptian police two days ago on the Iranian Arabic-language satellite TV station Al-Alam.
“The Egyptian authorities seized the station’s equipment and issued a warrant for the arrest of the bureau’s director, Ahmed Sioufi, on the grounds that Al-Alam did not have the necessary operating licences,” the press freedom organization said. “However, the station had made numerous licence applications in recent years without success.
“The Egyptian authorities appear reluctant to grant licences to certain media organizations so they can take punitive action against those that displease them at their discretion. Even if it was carried out legally, this raid qualifies as arbitrary.
“The Egyptian authorities must abandon such practices and give a clear and reasoned response to media organizations that apply for licences. We also demand the return of the seized equipment and the dropping of all proceedings against employees of the station.”
Police officers burst into the station’s offices in broad daylight and seized all its equipment, including video cameras, broadcasting apparatus and computer hard disks. In addition, they detained correspondent Khaled Sioufi and public relations director Tamer Abou Gami for questioning, apparently as witnesses, before releasing them the next day.
The police had a warrant for the arrest of Ahmed Sioufi, who was reported to have gone on hunger strike in the face of what he considered to be a “gag attempt”. Since the raid was carried out, security forces are reported to have surrounded the station’s Cairo premises – the main office in the city centre and another in the Dokki district – and threatened anyone trying to enter or leave with arrest.
An Al-Alam correspondent wrote on the station’s website two days ago that the bureau had applied many times to the Egyptian authorities for the necessary operating licences, yet a decision was postponed each time and so far its application has not been granted.
Forced to work without a licence since it opened its bureaux in Egypt in 2004, Al-Alam was the target of a similar raid in 2008. Other stations were reported to have faced similar difficulties in obtaining operating licences.
The raid on Al-Alam appears to be part of a broader picture. The station is a propaganda organ of the Islamic Republic and is a bitter critic of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been running Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, regularly accusing it of perpetuating the repressive practices of the former regime.
Less than 10 days before the Egyptian presidential election, Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign affairs adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he hoped to see an Islamic government in Egypt.
Reporters Without Borders also points out that Iran, for its part, has refused to grant operating licences to several foreign media organizations, including Arabic-language satellite television stations.
The operation by the Egyptian police has attracted objections and criticism. Station employees demonstrated outside parliament yesterday, calling on members to take appropriate action to protect the media. The Egyptian Journalists’ Union described the raid as “arbitrary”.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information said in a statement the military “hates freedom of the press because it exposed their violations throughout the transitional phase”.
It also said two religious networks had encountered difficulties with the authorities in the past week. One, Al-Hikma, was threatened with closure after broadcasting comments on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that were deemed too virulent. The other, Al-Umma, which recently criticised the electoral commission, was raided by police and some of its equipment was reported to have been destroyed.
Last September, the Egyptian police used the pretext of having no operating licence to raid the premises of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Egypt, Egypt’s affiliate of the Qatar-based channel Al-Jazeera, seizing its mobile broadcasting equipment and arresting a technician. That raid took place 48 hours after the station covered an attack by protesters on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The scenes of chaos showed by the station prompted criticism of the government’s handling of the incident and the passivity of the security forces.