Al-Jazeera demands Egypt release four journalists

File photo of Peter Greste Former BBC correspondent Peter Greste is one of the journalists arrested

Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera has demanded the release of four of its journalists seized by Egyptian police in Cairo at the weekend.

They include its Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and former BBC correspondent Peter Greste.

The journalists had held illegal meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood, the interior ministry said.

Al-Jazeera said it had been "subject to harassment" although not officially banned from working in Egypt.

There has been a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July. Last week it was declared a terrorist group.

In the past six months, more than 1,000 pro-Morsi protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces, and thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been arrested, including the majority of its leadership.

A court will hear a case to disband the Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), on 15 February.

'Arbitrary'

The four journalists who work for Al-Jazeera English are understood to have been detained late on Sunday night. They are:

  • Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, who holds Canadian nationality
  • Peter Greste, an Australian
  • Producer Baher Mohamed
  • Egyptian cameraman Mohamed Fawzy, who is said to have been arrested at home

"We condemn the arbitrary arrest of Al-Jazeera English journalists working in Cairo and demand their immediate and unconditional release, the broadcaster's website said.

Demonstrators hold placards with pictures of Al-Jazeera journalist Abdullah Al Shami and cameraman Mohammad Badr (12/11/13) Al-Jazeera journalist Abdullah al-Shami and cameraman Mohammad Badr have been detained in Cairo since the summer

"Al-Jazeera Media Network has been subject to harassment by Egyptian security forces which has arrested our colleagues, confiscated our equipment and raided our offices despite [us] not [being] officially banned from working there."

The interior ministry said in a statement that cameras, recordings and other material had been seized from rooms at a hotel in Cairo.

It accused the journalists of broadcasting news that was "damaging to national security".

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo says Egypt's military backed government has long accused Al-Jazeera of bias, because Qatar gave financial support to Mr Morsi's government.

Observers say Egypt's media environment has been highly charged since Mr Morsi's overthrow.

Several Islamist channels were closed down immediately after the military intervention in the summer. Al-Jazeera's Egyptian station Mubashir Misr was shut down in September.

The channel previously had its Cairo offices raided, equipment seized, and staff detained. Two of its staff - journalist Abdullah Elshamy and cameraman Mohammad Badr - arrested in July and August remain in detention, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The latest arrests come after deadly clashes between police and Muslim Brotherhood supporters across Egypt.

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