CPJ demands Egypt halt obstruction, restore Internet, SMS

New York, January 31, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Egyptian government to stop obstructing reporters’ work and to immediately return equipment confiscated from Al-Jazeera and other news outlets. Internet and SMS messages services remain disabled and must be restored without delay, CPJ said today. 

Authorities continued to target Al-Jazeera after blocking the station’s satellite transmissions from Egypt and ordering its bureaus shut on Sunday. Today, six journalists working for Al-Jazeera English were briefly detained, the Qatar-based station reported. All of the journalists were released, but their equipment and tapes were confiscated, according to the station. The U.S. State Department had called for their release, according to news reports.

Also today, police briefly detained reporter Robert El Gendy and cameraman Krzysztof Kolosionek of the Polish public television station TVP at their hotel in Hurghada, according to news reports. Police deleted some footage the journalists had gathered while preparing a report on Polish tourists leaving Egypt, according to news reports. In a separate episode today, security forces roughed up Marat Saychenko, a photographer working for the Russian website Life News, while trying unsuccessfully to confiscate his equipment, according to Life News.

Gamal Fahmy, a senior member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, and several other CPJ sources said no journalists were in jail as of today. Fahmy told CPJ that Egyptian authorities moved to “a new chapter in their assault on the media” in which massive pressure is being exerted on television stations such as Al-Jazeera, which have been reporting on mass protests.

Internet services remain mostly cut off, except for a single Internet service provider, local journalists told CPJ. Mobile telephone service has been restored but not SMS messaging, according to local journalists and mobile operators. 

“The Egyptian authorities are systematically blocking Al-Jazeera from gathering and broadcasting news. This is part of a wider and ultimately futile attempt to prevent Egyptians from witnessing the political history that is being made around them,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the government to stop harassing journalists, return all confiscated equipment, and restore all Internet and mobile services.”