Egypt's top prosecutor detains Al Jazeera journalists for 15 days

CAIRO Tue Dec 31, 2013 1:41pm EST

CAIRO Dec 31 (Reuters) - Egypt's general prosecutor on Tuesday detained several journalists for 15 days for broadcasting graphics on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel that damaged the country's reputation.

Al Jazeera's Cairo offices have been closed since July 3 when they were raided by security forces hours after the army ousted the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi from the presidency.

Qatar was a strong financial backer of the Brotherhood's rule and its relationship with Cairo has deteriorated in recent months as it vehemently opposes the army's overthrow of Mursi and the crackdown on his movement that has followed.

Egypt accuses Qatar and Al Jazeera of backing the Brotherhood, which it declared a terrorist organisation on Dec. 25 and thousands of whose members it has arrested.

The prosecutor's statement on Tuesday said the journalists belonged to a "media network" that was led by a Brotherhood member but did not say how many were arrested.

Al Jazeera had said on Monday that the Egyptian security forces arrested four journalists from its English language news service in Cairo after the Interior Ministry accused them of broadcasting illegally from a hotel suite.

The leader of the "media network" is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood with dual Egyptian-Canadian nationalities, the prosecutor's statement said.

"He used the suites in the hotel as a media centre to collect graphics, manipulate them ... and create new scenes that contradict reality then broadcast them through Al Jazeera and CNN with the aim of harming Egypt's reputation abroad," it said.

Others being held pending investigations are Egyptians and foreign journalists working with Al Jazeera channel, including an Australian correspondent, it said.

Egypt's State Information Service said in a statement on Tuesday that it is not targetting foreign journalists in Egypt and that the arrested journalists from Al Jazeera were not registered to work in Egypt.

"Al Jazeera condemns and deplores the arbitrary detention of journalists and demands their unconditional, immediate release," a spokesman for the news channel said. He declined to comment on the case as Al Jazeera had not yet received any official notification, he said. (Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Louise Ireland)