CAIRO -- An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered the closing of four television stations, including an Al Jazeera affiliate, in an escalating government crackdown to silence media criticism and intimidate journalists.
The military has been sensitive to media coverage since a coup in July overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Officials have accused international journalists of unfair reporting and pressured local publications and television outlets to endorse the interim’s government’s repression of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Three of the stations ordered shut down are run by Islamists, including Ahrar 25, which has ties to the Brotherhood. The Al Jazeera affiliate appeared to be targeted as part of a broader move against the company’s Qatar-based global network. Qatar was a crucial political and financial ally to the Brotherhood following Morsi’s election last year.
Authorities recently raided Al Jazeera’s offices in Cairo and expelled three journalists working for its separate English-language channel. Officials blamed Al Jazeera, which has focused extensively on protests by the Brotherhood against the government, for spreading “rumors and claims that are harmful to Egyptian national security and threaten the country's unity."
The official state news agency said Tuesday’s court ruling accused the four stations of “insulting the armed forces ... and inciting foreign countries against Egypt.”
After the court decision, Al Jazeera posted on its website that its “coverage is fair and balanced.”
Government pressure on the media has intensified since security forces last month killed at least 1,000 Brotherhood sympathizers and anti-military protesters during raids and attacks on demonstrations. Most of the Brotherhood leadership, including Morsi and the group’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, are in jail awaiting trials on murder-related charges.
"The Egyptian government is widening its censorship campaign against critical media in Egypt to undermine coverage of Muslim Brotherhood protests," said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "Like their predecessors, authorities apparently fail to grasp that the attempted suppression of dissenting voices only compounds the dissent."
Journalists have been assaulted by supporters of both the military and the Brotherhood. Egypt’s volatile political terrain, which has split the nation into warring camps, has threatened freedom of expression and objective reporting. The military has spurred a wave of nationalism that swiftly labels protesters "terrorists" or "enemies of the state."
"I don't understand the rationale behind such court orders. They are impossible to implement," Khaled Dawoud, a leading member of the liberal Dostour Party, told the Ahram Online news website regarding Tuesday’s ruling. "If they ban a channel, other channels will come up and find a country to broadcast from."
He added: “We should get accustomed to the broadcasting of views we do not sympathize with, and stop blaming the media."
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