Mubarak intensifies press attacks with assaults, detentions

SIPA Press agency photojournalist Alfred Yaghobzadeh is treated by anti-government protesters after being wounded during clashes in Cairo. (AP)

New York, February 3, 2011--Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak unleashed an unprecedented and systematic attack on international media today as his supporters assaulted reporters in the streets while security forces began obstructing and detaining journalists covering the unrest that threatens to topple his government. 

"This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "The systematic and sustained attacks documented by CPJ leave no doubt that a government-orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news is well under way. With this turn of events, Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world's worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba.

"We hold President Mubarak personally responsible for this unprecedented action," said Simon, "and call on the Egyptian government to reverse course immediately."

In the past 24 hours alone, CPJ has recorded 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight instances of equipment having been seized. In addition, plainclothes and uniformed agents reportedly entered at least two hotels used by international journalists to confiscate press equipment. On Wednesday, CPJ documented numerous earlier assaults, detentions, and confiscations. Mubarak forces have attacked the very breadth of global journalism: Their targets have included Egyptians and other Arab journalists, Russian and U.S. reporters, Europeans and South Americans.

"The attacks on journalists, which began last week, have now intensified to levels unseen in Egypt's modern history," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We are concerned for the safety of our colleagues, and we're alarmed at the prospect of these witnesses being sidelined at this crucial moment in Egyptian history."

Government officials, pro-government journalists, and commentators loyal to Mubarak have for the past two days been engaged in a systematic campaign to present foreigners, and particularly foreign journalists, as spies. CPJ has documented at least seven instances on state-owned television or on private stations owned by businessmen loyal to Mubarak in which individuals described elaborate foreign plots to destabilize Egypt that centered on foreign provocateurs, including journalists. In several instances, they were described as "Israeli spies." In one instance, a woman whose face was obscured "confessed" to having been trained by "Americans and Israelis." She went on to say that the alleged training took place in Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.

Here is a round-up of attacks on the press:

  • The Washington Post told CPJ that the paper's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, and Linda Davidson, a photographer, were among a number of journalists detained this morning. Their unidentified driver and translator were also picked up, and the driver was beaten. Fadel and Davidson were freed late today, but the status of the driver and translator was unclear.
  • Corban Costa of Brazilian Radio Nacional and cameraman Gilvan Rocha of TV Brasil were detained, blindfolded, and had their passports and equipment seized, according to Brazilian news accounts. The two were reportedly held overnight without water in a windowless room in a Cairo police station. An officer forced the reporters to sign a statement in Arabic saying they would immediately leave Egypt for Brazil, reports said. "We had to trust what he said, and sign the document, " Corban said. They said they will be sent back to Brazil on Friday.
  • Polish state television TVP said that five journalists working in two crews--Krzysztof Kołosionek and  Piotr Bugalski; and Michał Jankowski, Piotr Górecki, and Paweł Rolak--were detained in Cairo and that one of their cameras was smashed. Krzysztof Kołosionek and Piotr Bugalski were released, according to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
  • The New York Times reported today that two of its reporters were released after they were detained overnight in Cairo.
  • Canadian Globe and Mail journalist Sonia Verma tweeted today that she was being taken "into some kind of custody." She later reported that she was held by the military for three hours.
  • CNN-IBN reported that video journalist Rajesh Bharadwajm was "taken away" from Tahrir Square by military forces. Bharadwajm's status was not immediately clear.
  • Maurice Sarfatti, who writes under the name Serge Dumont, was arrested twice within the past day, according to a statement from the daily Le Soir. The Belgian journalist, who was freed late today, works for a number of European publications.
  • A German freelance journalist was briefly detained between Alexandria and Cairo, Frank-Dieter Freiling, a senior vice president of ZDF-German Television, told CPJ in an e-mail.
  • Three Romanian TV crews were detained Wednesday and Thursday in Cairo, according to Antena 3 producer Vlad Petreanu, who e-mailed CPJ with details. On Wednesday, Adelin Petrisor, a reporter for the state-owned broadcaster TVR, and an unnamed cameraman were detained by Cairo police, searched, and later released. On Thursday, police detained Realitatea TV reporter Cristian Zarescu and his unidentified cameraman. Authorities confiscated their tapes before releasing them. Also on Thursday, Antena 3 reporter Carmen Avram and cameraman Cristian Tamas, were stopped by police. The men sent a text message late today saying they were being held for questioning.

  • Mubarak supporters stormed Cairo's Hilton Hotel searching for journalists, Al-Jazeera reported today. Journalists inside the hotel posted a Tumblr entry that said: "About 20 foreign journalists are currently holed up." BBC Foreign Editor Jon Williams tweeted: "Egyptian security seize BBC equipment at Cairo Hilton in attempt to stop us broadcasting."

  • Rachel Beth Anderson, a freelance videographer in Cairo, tweeted that "cameras & phones disappearing from journo hotel rooms in the Semiramis hotel! We're locked inside by staff who says its orders from outside."
  • Fox News reported that correspondent Greg Palkot and producer Olaf Wiig were hospitalized after being beaten by protesters in Cairo.
  • The Swedish public broadcaster SVT reported that its correspondent in Egypt, Bert Sundström, is recovering from stab wounds to the stomach in a Cairo hospital. STV said it lost touch with Sundström as he was reporting in Tahrir Square and when they finally reached him on his cell phone, a man answered and told the station that he had been "taken by the military." STV's Ingrid Thörnqvist told the online Aftonbladet: "He is seriously injured, but the condition is stable." 

  • The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo, Petros Papaconstantino, was "briefly hospitalized with a stab wound to the leg" after an attack by Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square, according to The Associated Press. The reporter wrote on Kathimerini's site: "I was spotted by Mubarak supporters. They ... beat me with batons on the head and stabbed me lightly in the leg. Some soldiers intervened, but Mubarak's supporters took everything I had on me in front of the soldiers." AP also reported that an unidentified Greek newspaper photographer was punched in the face.
  • The Associated Press reported that CBS reporter Mark Strassman and a camera operator were attacked while trying to photograph people throwing rocks. Strassman told AP that demonstrators punched and sprayed with Mace his camera operator, whom he did not identify. "As soon as one started, it was like blood in the water," he said.
  • Dima Salem, a reporter for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, was attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters who took her cameraman's equipment and tried to beat her, the station said. Witnesses helped them escape, Al-Arabiya reported on the air.
  • Two Al-Jazeera English journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters, the Qatar-based satellite station reported on the air. Three other network reporters were detained in Cairo, the station reported. No names were given.
  • Alfred Yaghobzadeh, a French photographer working for SIPA Press agency, was beaten while covering street protests, according to AP, which moved a photo of the journalist being aided by witnesses.
  • The AP reported that men wielding sticks disrupted operations and seized satellite equipment at one of its locations.
  • A BBC producer tweeted that Margaret Evans, a CBC reporter, was forced to hand over recording equipment to military forces in Tahrir Square.
  • Margaret Warner, a senior correspondent for the U.S.-based "PBS Newshour," had her camera confiscated. Warner tweeted today: "PBS NewsHour arrives Cairo. Camera gear inspected & confiscated. 2 hours & we're still haggling."

  • At least four Spanish journalists were attacked in Cairo, according to news reports. Joan Roura, a correspondent for TV3, a Catalan public television station, was attacked by men who tried to steal his mobile phone while he was conducting a live broadcast for the 24 hours news channel. Assaults were also reported against Sal Emergui, a correspondent for Catalan radio RAC1; Gemma Saura, a correspondent for the newspaper La Vanguardia; and Mikel Ayestaran, a correspondent for the newspaper Vocento/ABC.
  • Several Turkish journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters, according to news reports. Cumali Önal of Cihan News Agency and Doğan Ertuğrul of the Turkish Star Daily were attacked and beaten by pro-Mubarak supporters on Wednesday. Both were in stable condition today.
  • Men with knives seized Erol Candabakoğlu, a Turkish Fox TV reporter, along with his unidentified cameraman and driver on Wednesday while they were filming in the Boulaq neighborhood of Cairo, according to news reports. The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported that Egyptian police later freed them.
  • Metin Turan, a reporter for the Turkish state-run TRT channel, was assaulted today and beaten by Mubarak supporters, who seized his camera, money, and cell phone, according to the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman. The reporter escaped and sought refuge at the Turkish Embassy; embassy officials told the paper they would take Turan to the hospital because he suffered from wounds and bruises. Isa Simsek, a photographer for Today's Zaman, was also assaulted today by a Mubarak supporter, according to news reports.
  • Popular Egyptian blogger Mahmoud (aka "Sandmonkey") tweeted: "I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated, my car ripped apar& supplies taken." He said he was briefly detained.
  • Wally Nell, a photographer for the California-based Zuma Press agency, was wounded under the 6th October Bridge at the Corniche on the Nile in downtown Cairo, according to accounts posted by family and friends. Those accounts described Zell as having suffered multiple pellet wounds after being fired upon by police.
  • At least four contributors to Demotix, a U.K.-based citizen journalism website and photo agency, were also attacked, Turi Munthe, Demotix CEO, told CPJ in an e-mail. The four included Nour El Refai and Mohamed Elmaymony.                    

  • The British-based communications company Vodafone accused the Egyptian government of hijacking its text messaging services and sending out text messages supportive of Mubarak, according to news reports.
  • Multiple journalists for state-owned or government-aligned media have resigned or have refused to work after the government put pressure on them to sanitize the news or to not report on violence against demonstrators, several CPJ sources said. Shahira Amin, an anchor on the state-owned Nile TV channel, said on the air on another channel: "I refuse to be a hypocrite. I feel liberated."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this alert was extensively updated to include numerous additional attacks and to provide context.

February 3, 2011 12:59 PM ET |

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