Egyptian police shutter Al-Alam’s Cairo office

New York, May 16, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Sunday’s raid on the Cairo offices of Al-Alam, an Iranian Arabic-language satellite broadcaster, which effectively shut down the station’s news gathering in Egypt. CPJ calls on authorities to immediately return the station’s confiscated equipment and allow staff members to resume their work. 

About 15 plainclothes police carried out the raid because the station was operating without a license, Al-Alam reported. Police briefly detained two Al-Alam staff members, news reports said. Al-Alam, which has operated a Cairo bureau for more than 10 years, has applied for a license on numerous occasions only to be rebuffed, the bureau’s director, Ahmed al-Shweify, told CPJ. The station filed its latest application in April, he said.

The station, which is based in Tehran and maintains numerous bureaus throughout the world, continues broadcasting and can still be seen in Egypt.

Al-Shweify said police have prevented Al-Alam staff from entering the building and have issued a warrant for his arrest. Al-Alam staff protested in front of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate today, a day after al-Shweify filed a complaint with prosecutors over the raid. The director, who is due to meet with prosecutors on Thursday, said staff are planning to embark on a hunger strike.

Al-Alam, which was shut down previously, in 2008, reports news from an official Iranian perspective and has been critical of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. A number of broadcasters have operated in Egypt without a license, both before and after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. The government has a record of denying or postponing license requests, sometimes on procedural matters and sometimes without explanation, CPJ research shows.

In the past year, police have carried out similar raids against other broadcasters. In September, CPJ documented a raid on Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr’s offices in Cairo; authorities said the critical station was operating without a permit. In October, CPJ documented raids on two television stations in apparent reprisal for their coverage of clashes between protesters and security forces.

“Egyptian authorities have a long record of withholding broadcast licenses from critical news outlets, and then sweeping in to shut these broadcasters when it suits their political purposes,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Al-Alam should be allowed to resume its work and have its equipment returned.”