31 Jan 2011

Al Jazeera journalists freed in Egypt

Six Al Jazeera journalists, who were arrested earlier today, have been released by Egyptian authorities but have had all their equipment taken preventing them from broadcasting.

Al-Jazeera employees stand at the pan-Arab television channel's bureau in Cairo on January 30, 2011. Egypt has ordered a shutdown of Al-Jazeera's operations, the official MENA news agency said (Getty)

In a sign of how important the social media tool Twitter has been to the Egypt protests, the news of the arrest was tweeted out by Al Jazeera English correspondent Dan Nolan (@nolanjazeera) who wrote:

“4 soldiers entered room took our camera. We are under military arrest #Egypt #jan25”

The news quickly circulated amongst Twitter, and prompted a response from Philip J Crowley (@pjcrowley), US Secretary of State for Public Affairs – likewise by a tweet:

“We are concerned by the shutdown of #Al-Jazeera in #Egypt and arrest of its correspondents. Egypt must be open and the reporters released.”

Several hours after their initial arrest, the six journalists were released. Nolan had kept a constant stream of tweets going during the arrest, but assured readers that they were being treated ok but all their cameras, laptops and phones had been confiscated effectively stopping them from broadcasting:

“We’re okay, they held us for 3 hours, we’ve been released, took cameras, laptops and phones #Egypt #Jan25”

The arrest comes a day after the Egyptian government closed down Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau and revoked Al Jazeera’s licence to broadcast into the country.

“We’re okay, they held us for 3 hours.” Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera

“The Information Minister [Anas al-Fikki] ordered … suspension of operations of Al Jazeera, cancelling of its licences and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff as of today,” a statement on the official Mena news agency said on Sunday.

The Government prevented Al-Jazeera’s signal from being transmitted via the popular Government-owned satellite Nilesat. Al Jazeera said the move was “a reaction to how widely its coverage was being watched”.

Although the Nilesat signal was cut, Al Jazeera technicians have said they have managed to restore the signal on an alternative frequency. Egyptians can also watch Al Jazeera’s output online or via other satellites such as Arabsat or Eutelsat Hotbird.

Al Jazeera has also been asking for viewers to send pictures and video via the internet to them. Egyptians can continue to watch news from state television or other satellite broadcasters such as Al Arabiya or BBC Arabic.

The move to cut the signal prompted strong criticism from media outlets around the world.

“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.

Tens of thousands of people are still protesting on the streets, calling for an end to the rule of President Hosni Mubarek, defying a government curfew. Calls for a massive ‘Million Man’ march have been pledged for tomorrow in protest.

Channel 4 News photo gallery of the protests in Egypt, where thousands of anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets.