Reporters Without Borders condemns information minister Anas el-Fekki’s decision today to shut down Qatar-based Al-Jazeera’s operations in Egypt, where the pan-Arab satellite TV channel has been providing round-the-clock coverage of the anti-government protests that began on 25 January.
“By banning Al Jazeera, the government is trying to limit the circulation of TV footage of the six-day-old wave of protests,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Thus totally archaic decision is in completely contradiction with President Hosni Mubarak’s promise of ‘democratic’ measures on 28 January. It is also the exact of opposite of the increase in freedom sought by the Egyptian population.”
The government news agency MENA reported this morning that Fekki had ordered “the suspension of operations of Al Jazeera, cancelling of its licences and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff as of today.”Fekki is a member of a cabinet that has been acting in a caretaker capacity ever since Mubarak announced his intention to replace it on 28 January.
Today, the sixth consecutive day of anti-government protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again to demand President Mubarak’s departure, defying the curfew announced on 29 January. President Mubarak’s announcement that he was firing his entire government has failed to mollify them.
In an earlier move, the Egyptian authorities shut down the country’s Internet and mobile phone networks at around 10:30 p.m. on 27 January in an attempt to prevent the protests from being organized and to limit international coverage (http://en.rsf.org/egypt-arrests-of-foreign-journalists-28-01-2011,39419.html). Mobile phone communications were partially restored yesterday but connecting to the Internet still seems to be impossible.
Al Jazeera has often had problems with Arab governments that accuse its coverage of being biased. The Iraqi government closed down its bureaux in 2006. The Moroccan and Kuwaiti authorities (http://en.rsf.org/koweit-government-closes-al-jazeera-s-14-12-2010,39026.html) did the same in the latter part of 2010.
Al Jazeera’s bureaux in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus were attacked last week after it revealed that the Palestinian Authority had offered major concessions in the course of confidential negotiations with Israel, including concessions on Jerusalem’s status and the return of Palestinian refugees. The PA’s negotiators accused Al Jazeera of lying and distorting the facts (http://en.rsf.org/television-studio-used-by-al-27-01-2011,39406.html).