Egypt Arrests Four Al-Jazeera Journalists for "Harm to Domestic Security"


The situation continues to worsen in Egypt as Egyptian police arrested four Al-Jazeera journalists Sunday night, including an award-winning Australian correspondent, on suspicion of illegally broadcasting news they deemed dangerous to "domestic security." They also accused the journalists of meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which only last week was declared a terrorist organization, highlighting the dangers of the increasingly repressive country.

According to the interior ministry, officers of the National Security service raided Al-Jazeera's makeshift bureau at their Cairo hotel on Sunday night, arresting the TV network's Cairo bureau chief, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, as well as Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy. They also took award-winning correspondent Peter Greste, who has previously worked for the BBC and Reuters, and who won a Peabody Award in 2012 for a BBC Panorama documentary on Somalia. The security team then confiscated the journalists' cameras, recordings and other equipment.

"State security received information that a member of the (Brotherhood) used two suites in a Cairo hotel to hold meetings with other members of the organization and turned the suites into a press center," the Interior Ministry said. "(They) made live broadcasts of news that harms homeland security, spreading rumors and false news to Qatar's Al Jazeera channel without permits."

Sunday’s raids come after a weekend of pro-Brotherhood protests across Egypt, during which at least five people were killed and 265 others were arrested, and amid a months-long government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which culminated on Wednesday, when the Egyptian government officially designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Now, in addition to the country's strict anti-protest laws, anyone accused of being part of pro-Muslim Brotherhood gatherings, or of supporting the group “verbally or in writing,” can be sentenced to five years in prison. So Sunday's arrests at best come tantamount to accusing the journalists of fraternizing with terrorists — at worst, the journalists are being called terrorists themselves. The ministry has said that the journalists were found to possess Muslim Brotherhood "publications" (such as leaflets about pro-Brotherhood campus strikes): That, alone, is a charge which can carry with it a jail sentence of up to five years.

This isn't the first time the network has clashed with police: Security forces raided Al-Jazeera's offices on July 3, only hours after the military ousted Mohammed Morsi from the presidency, forcing them to close. Since then, the network's relationship with the government has been tense, and it has often criticized the army and the government's crackdown on the Brotherhood. Ironically, Sunday's arrests come a day before the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report calling Egypt one of the most dangerous and deadly countries for journalists, along with Syria and Iraq — six journalists were killed in Egypt in 2013 alone.