CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered the closing of four TV 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 Mohammed Morsi. Officials have accused international journalists of unfair reporting and pressured local publications and television outlets to endorse the interim 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 affiliate of Al-Jazeera 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 a statement on its website saying 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 antimilitary protesters during raids and attacks on demonstrations. Most of the Brotherhood leadership, including Morsi, are in jail awaiting trials on murder-related charges.