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 Al Jazeera Egypt Live's office comes after Egyptian authorities said the station and its staff were operating without permits. The raid also comes a day ahead of planned protests demanding a timeline for an end to military rule, in place since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Activists are also calling for an immediate end to 30 years of emergency laws.
Since its inception in March, the station was unique in that it carried live broadcasts of all major Cairo protests.
Activists and rights groups view the raids on the station, which broadcasts live around-the-clock from Egypt, 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.
The station's office was shut down earlier this month because it did not have government-authorized permits to operate.
The station's news chief, Ahmed Zein, said the station applied for permits, and was promised it would receive them next week.
Zein said the Cairo office is under construction, and that the station is broadcasting from Qatar.
A government official said the station is simply not allowed to operate until all the permits are cleared with the proper authorities. He would not say when the permits will be issued. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Zein said security in civilian clothes 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.
"We are trying to convince ourselves it's about procedures," Zein said. He believes there are officials who are not pleased with the station's focus on Egypt, saying "I wish they'd just say it, instead of sending us on a permit chase.".
Al Jazeera Egypt Live began broadcasting shortly after the ouster of Mubarak by popular protests. Al-Jazeera officials say they 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 wider clampdowns 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.