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TV agency boss facing charges over food riots, harassed for links with al-Jazeera

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about legal action against Nader Gohar, owner of the Egyptian TV news agency Cairo News Company (CNC), who was charged on 5 May 2008 with unlicensed broadcasting of food riots in the north of the country on 6 April.

On 5 May, the al-Aguza correctional court in Cairo charged Gohar with broadcasting protests without permission in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla against a hike in the price of basic foodstuffs, in which demonstrators were shown tearing down photos of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

The complaint was made against him by the public Egypt Radio Television Union and on 17 April, police searched CNC offices and seized satellite dishes and equipment belonging to foreign channels that work with the broadcast company. Cairo's prosecutor-general questioned Gohar on three occasions and his trial is due to open on 26 May.

Gohar denied to Reporters Without Borders that he had sent a team to Mahalla to cover the protests. "A lot of companies work without licences in Egypt. I am a victim of the state's campaign of harassment against al-Jazeera, one of the TV channels I work with regularly," he said. Gohar confirmed that he has not had a broadcast licence for several months, but added that the authorities had told him to wait for law reform before renewing his application.

"Covering food riots is full of pitfalls for the media. Several journalists and bloggers were arrested during the events that shook the city of Mahalla in April," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Legal proceedings started against Nader Gohar sound a warning to all Egyptian journalists who work with foreign media. We call on the prosecutor's office to put an end to these proceedings and to give the journalist time to renew his work permit," it said.

Gohar, whose lawyer has not been given permission to see the file, faces a prison sentence and a harsh fine. The trial judge will be Sherif Kamal, who has handed down severe sentences to journalists in previous cases.

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