CAIRO - Hundreds of Islamists besieged Sunday television studios complex on the outskirts of Cairo, including the headquarters of satellite channels that are deemed critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The protesters declared a sit-in and blocked the doors of the Media Production City, located in Sixth of October City, with iron and stone barricades, preventing the entry and exit of workers and guests of talk shows.
The siege may lead to the cancellation of live broadcast programs, according to journalists.
Morsi said on Sunday in comments posted on Twitter, "Some use the media to incite violence and those involved will not go unpunished. Whoever participates in incitement is an accomplice in crime."
"I could stop these inciters of violence, but I'm capable of holding them accountable through law," Morsi said, adding that alleged provocateurs – who he did not refer to by name – were using the media to incite violence and chaos in Egypt.
"Whoever is found to be involved in promoting violence through the media will not escape punishment," the president warned.
Morsi went on to stress his "right to impose exceptional measures to restore domestic order."
He added that any attempt to "portray the Egyptian State as weak" would be destined to fail. "The state apparatus is recovering and can deter any law offenders."
A witness, present at MPC, said protesters cheered when they heard of the president's remarks.
Several media figures were reportedly assaulted by the Islamist protesters.
TV anchor Reham El-Sehly was verbally abused by protesters on her way out of the MPC and the window of her car was partially smashed, Al-Ahram Arabic news website reported.
Hafez Abou Seada, head of the Egyptian Institute for Human Rights, was prevented by protesters from entering the MPC for an interview.
“They said this is Abu Seada the human rights guy and tried to drag me out of the car but others told the driver to leave,” Abou Seada said, adding that his car window was smashed.
Mona El-Shazly condemned the “besieging of the MPC” via her daily show, Gomla Mofida, adding that all the MPC's doors had been locked.
“Everyone working here is besieged except for those who hold IDs of Al-Nas and Al-Hafez [Islamic channels], this is their passport to exist in the media city,” El-Shazly added.
Meanwhile, reports circulated that Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, had been assaulted. But Abu El-Ghar refuted the claims in an interview with Al-Ahram.
Following the reported assaults, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim went to the MPC after midnight in an attempt to convince the protesters to end their sit-in and allow the besieged staff to leave.
Ibrahim, whose presence was met with chants against the Interior Ministry, failed to convince the protesters to leave and some insisted they would not leave until their demands of “purging the media” were met.
On Saturday, several Islamist groups began issuing calls for a protest outside the MPC due to what they described as biased coverage of the clashes at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo's Moqattam district on Friday.
Around 200 people were injured in nationwide clashes on Friday between supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A number of Brotherhood members proposed joining Sunday's planned demonstration at the MPC. The group's leadership distanced itself from the calls but said group members had the right to protest on an individual basis.
In a televised press conference on Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein said the group had not called for demonstrations despite the decision by some members to join the rally outside the MPC.
Last December, following an appeal by Salafist former presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi staged an almost week-long sit-in outside the MPC to demand the "purge" of media elements "who are misleading the public and inciting violence."
Since Morsi was elected president last year, there has been tangible deterioration in press freedoms. Among them are several criminal prosecutions against journalists made possible by the laws of Mubarak's era.
In one of the most controversial cases, Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef faced investigation for allegedly insulting the president when he hugged a pillow baring an image of Morsi's face and mocked the leader's speeches.
Prosecutors dropped the case eventually but over the past two months the presidency has filed numerous complaints against journalists.
"It's getting worse day after day," said Nihad Aboud, freedom of media and artistic creation programs coordinator at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, in Egypt.
Repressive laws also extend to insults on religion and over the past several months there has been an increase in the number of blasphemy prosecutions.
Recently, an Egyptian court banned a television channel that broadcasts belly dancing for provocative content and operating without a license.
"Egypt is heading toward a real breakdown," said Liliane Daoud, a broadcast journalist with the privately owned ONTV.
Rather than protect speech and media freedoms, the nation's new constitution provides broad limitations on expression and does not protect journalists from being jailed for their work.
A new draft law by the Justice Ministry threatens to regulate public gatherings, requiring advance notice for demonstrations and demanding protesters stay away from government buildings, among other conditions.