For the second time this month, Egyptian security officials in civilian clothes raided the Cairo office of Al Jazeera Live Egypt, part of the Qatar-based broadcaster's network, roughing up its staff, detaining an editor and confiscating equipment, the news chief said Thursday.
The raid on the channel's office comes after Egyptian authorities said the station and its staff were operating without permits. Set up in March, the channel carries live broadcasts of Egypt's ongoing protests and indepth coverage of the country's political transition following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Febuary.
Activists and rights groups viewed the raids on the station as part of a larger crackdown by authorities on independent media. "Someone, an authority or an official, is clearly getting fed up with the newly acquired freedoms in Egypt," human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam said in response to Thursday's raid.
Authorites also shut down Al Jazeera Egypt Live's office earlier this month because it did not have government-authorized permits to operate.
The station's news chief, Ahmed Zein, said the channel has applied for permits, and was promised it would receive them next week. He said the Cairo office is under construction, and that the station is broadcasting from Qatar.
Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal told the MENA state news agency the channel's insistence on broadcasting without permits was "an intentional insult to Egyptian law and a violation of national sovereignty." He said the station won't force its will on the authorities, who won't tolerate the offense.
A government official acknowledged the station had applied for permits but wouldn't say when the permits would be issued. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Al Jazeera was repeatedly targeted by the Mubarak government during the uprising for what the regime viewed as coverage sympathetic to the protesters. Al Jazeera's staff was arrested, the station was knocked off the air and its website was hacked.
Zein said plainclothes security agents forced their way into the office in the Agouza neighborhood in central Cairo, refusing to identify themselves, and shoving the office staff into one room.
When a reporter asked them for ID's and a search warrant, the security men pushed her, Zein said.
Zein said he believes there are officials who are not pleased with the station's focus on Egypt.
The authorities later released the editor, Mohammed Suleiman, who was briefly detained. Suleiman said the raid followed a complaint from the state's Radio and TV Union that the station was broadcasting from the Cairo office.
Al-Jazeera officials say the station applied for a permit six months ago but were told by Egyptian officials to continue to operating until permits are issued.
The raid is seen as an extension of a wider clampdown that include a freeze on new licenses for private satellite TV stations. The country's military rulers, in charge since Mubarak was ousted, have threatened to take measures against broadcasters considered to be inciting violence. They also recently expanded the widely-hated emergency laws, which give authorities free reign to arrest people, to include penalties for publishing false information.
On Thursday, the military council released a statement warning protesters against "seeking to destabilize (Egypt's) stability to curtail the democratic transition." The statement, issued on the council's official Facebook page, said any attacks on military targets would amount to an attack on Egypt's security and would not be tolerated.
Earlier this week, according to lawyer Seif al-Islam, copies of weekly independent newspaper el-Fagr were taken from vendors and its editors told to change a headline in the paper critical of the country's military chief.
At least two other newspapers, including a state-owned one, were forced this month to remove articles before going to print. Both articles dealt with Egypt's powerful intelligence agency, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.