CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s interim government called an Al-Jazeera local affiliate that broadcasts in Arabic a national threat Thursday, moving closer to banning its broadcasts beamed from Qatar after the affiliate aired recordings of declarations by fugitive leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Qatar-based television network said four journalists working for its English service were arrested in Cairo.
Three government ministers issued a statement saying that Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr is operating “illegally, in violation to the profession’s standards and without a permit to work in Egypt,” the state-run news agency MENA reported.
The ministers also said the channel used satellite transmission without a license and spread “rumors and claims which are harmful to Egyptian national security and threaten the country’s unity,” without referring specifically to the broadcasts of the fugitives’ declarations.
Unnamed government agencies have been ordered to close the network, the statement said.
No details were provided, but Egyptians receive the affiliate’s broadcasts via a signal from the state-owned satellite operator Nilesat, which presumably would have to cut it off. The channel remained on the air Thursday night.
Calls to Al-Jazeera in Qatar for comment went unanswered, but the network’s Al-Jazeera English division said in a statement that correspondent Wayne Hay, cameraman Adil Bradlow and producers Russ Finn and Baher Mohammed were detained on by authorities on Tuesday after they covered events in Cairo.
Al-Jazeera English called the detentions “a campaign against Al-Jazeera in particular,” demanded the release of the journalists and said it was holding Egyptian authorities responsible for their safety while in custody.
The Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr Cairo office was raided and closed last month, and 28 staffers were detained and later released. Al-Jazeera said Associated Press Television News was ordered to deny Al-Jazeera channels access to their live services.
A local media service company, Cairo News Company, has also been told to withhold access to broadcast equipment. The Associated Press strongly protested the order to police and government officials. It said it followed the directive because it is bound by local law.
The affiliate did extensive coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s protests following the July 3 popularly-supported military coup that toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and has been repeatedly accused of being biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood, claims denied by Al-Jazeera. Some of its local news presenters said the station had misled viewers, while the affiliate said it provided balanced coverage of events in Egypt.
Before the raid, Egypt’s interim government shut down the Muslim Brotherhood’s Misr 25 television channel and four Islamic TV networks sympathetic to the deposed president — but the Al-Jazeera affiliate continued to broadcast live protests by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood via a stolen live broadcast van owned by Egyptian state TV.
With its newsgathering ability now crippled in Egypt for weeks, the affiliate has relied on amateur video sent by Egyptians to provide images of what is happening in the country. But it made headlines this week after airing the declarations by the fugitive Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including a statement by Mohammed el-Beltagy. He was arrested Thursday.
The network has previously had problems in Egypt. Its Al-Jazeera Egypt Live affiliate that broadcasts in English was raided twice by security forces in September 2011, when the military ruled Egypt directly after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s previous longtime president. Authorities said that affiliate, which is still broadcasting, had been operating without permits.