Thursday, February 03, 2011

Journalists in Egypt arrested and attacked

Posted at 11:42 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011
By David Nakamura
egypt riots
A plainclothes policeman (L) runs to attack a foreign journalist as others beat a protester on Saturday. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Updated: 1:19 p.m.

A day after journalists were beaten by pro-government supporters in Cairo, at least two dozen reporters, including two Washington Post staff members, were detained according to multiple witnesses. Based on reports from witnesses, they were in the custody of the military police in Cairo as of 3 p.m. EET (8 a.m. EST). Early reports that they were in the custody of the Interior Ministry were incorrect.

Leila Fadel, the Post's Cairo bureau chief, Linda Davidson, a staff photographer, Sufian Taha, their translator and a longtime Washington Post employee, and Mansour el-Sayed Mohammed Abo Gouda, their Egyptian driver, were among those who have been detained, said Douglas Jehl, the Post's foreign editor. Fadel and Davidson have since been released, but Taha and Abo Gouda are believed to still be in custody.

Three Al Jazeera journalists also have been detained and another is reported missing, according to a statement from the news network. Meantime, the Associated Press reported that its correspondent saw "eight foreign journalists detained by the military near the prime minister's office, not far from Tahrir Square."

"All three of our staff should be immediately released," Al Jazeera said. "We are concerned for their safety and welfare. We are taking every measure as a priority to obtain their release."

Al Jazeera also reported Thursday that a Greek journalist had been stabbed in the leg in the chaos.

The Post's Jehl said of the newspaper's correspondents: "We understand that they are safe but in custody, and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington. We've advised the State Department, as well."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, asked whether the office has protested the detention of journalists to the Egyptian government, said in an email: "We have expressed our grave concerns with government officials in the Foreign Ministry and the Embassy here in Washington. We are in touch with the military as well."

Since the protests broke out in Tahrir Square 10 days ago, journalists have rushed to the scene to document the chaos, but they have been hampered by a lack of resources - the government shut down Internet access for several days - and by intimidation. Anti-government protesters have complained that the government is trying to whitewash the demonstrations, while some government supporters have said reporters need to be rounded up and detained for their own safety.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has received nearly 50 reports Thursday of journalists being detained or beaten, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. He said reporters from various countries, including a BBC television correspondent and reporters from Spain, Sweden and Italy, are among those who have been rounded up or assaulted. He said there was a report of "thugs" breaking into a Hilton hotel -- where many journalists were staying -- to round up reporters.

"Things are about as out-of-control as they can get," Abdel Dayem said. The number of reporters who have been detained or beaten is "definitely in the dozens. Egypt TV is accusing a number of people, basically all foreigners on the street, to be Israeli spies. So you can do the math. Dozens have been arrested, beaten on the street, their equiptment confiscated and broken and their credentials burned."

Abdel Dayem said he does not recall a similarly bleak situation for reporters in recent years. According to CPJ's Web site, four journalists have been killed around the world in 2011 and 145 are currently in prison, not counting Egypt. In a report on its Web site Thursday, the CPJ rounded up the incidents in Egypt it has compiled so far.

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

NBC correspondent Richard Engel, one of the most high-profile journalists on the scene, said Thursday on Twitter: "Journalists, now targets, disliked by Mubarak supporters, forced to play cat-mouse game, broadcasting, moving, staying low profile."

In addition to journalists, human rights workers also were being rounded up, including Daniel Williams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. The organization said that its law center in Cairo was raided by police and military personnel and several monitors were interrogated before being driven off to an undisclosed location.

Williams, a former journalist who worked for the Washington Post and several other publications, recently wrote about the protests in Tunisia for Global Post, an online foreign news publication.

"Egyptian authorities should immediately and safely release our colleague and the other human rights monitors detained today," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should immediately halt the arrest and harassment of independent witnesses to the orchestrated attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Egypt."

By David Nakamura | February 3, 2011; 11:42 AM ET

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