Egypt blocks Al-Jazeera transmissions, orders bureaus shut

New York, January 30, 2011Nilesat, the satellite transmission company owned by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union and other government agencies, has stopped transmitting the signal of Al-Jazeera’s primary channel, the station and others reported today. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Egyptian authorities to disrupt media coverage by Al-Jazeera and calls on them to reverse the decision immediately. 

Shortly before 11 a.m., Al-Jazeera announced on the air that Anas al-Fiqi, information minister in the cabinet that was dismissed on Friday, had ordered the offices of all Al-Jazeera bureaus in Egypt shut down and the accreditation of all network journalists revoked. The official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that the order was to take effect on Sunday, and transmissions originating from Egypt ceased within an hour of the announcement. The discharged information minister ordered “the relevant government agencies to take the immediate legal measures necessary to revoke the licenses for live satellite transmission equipment (S.N.G.) and fiber optic cables or any other means of communication provided to Al-Jazeera,” MENA reported.

“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, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The international community should prevail upon President Mubarak to lift this censorship immediately.”

Today is the sixth day of massive street demonstrations in which citizens had been demanding political, social, and economic reforms, though demonstrators are now calling for the complete removal of Mubarak’s three-decade-long regime. On Thursday, authorities suspended Internet and mobile phone service, according to news reports and mobile operators, in an effort to disrupt communications between protesters as well as transmission of news. On Saturday, mobile phone services were restored to a large degree, according to local journalists and press freedom advocates who spoke to CPJ.

Internet connectivity, a vital resource for local journalists and those reporting from Egypt to the rest of the world, continues to be almost non-existent in Egypt, with more than 90 percent of connections to the wider Internet shut down. CPJ research indicates that this is a deliberate, coordinated result of Egyptian government orders to local Internet service providers. CPJ urges the government to rescind any such directives and order the restoration of Egypt’s connections with the outside world.

Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera English continued to report today on Egypt from other locations. CPJ research shows that viewers outside Egypt can now view the network’s Arabic channel only on the Hotbird satellite or other satellites not controlled by Egyptian authorities. But at least two individuals in Egypt who spoke to the channel’s anchor on air reported that they could not view the channel even on non-state satellites, an indication that authorities may be jamming those transmissions. As of 1 p.m. local time, Al-Jazeera English’s broadcast remained on Nilesat. Al-Jazeera Mubasher, the network’s live news channel, which had been transmitting live footage from Egypt’s streets was taken off Nilesat on Thursday.