Journalists under physical assault in Egypt

(CPJ) – Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak have begun violently attacking journalists reporting on the streets of Cairo today, a shift in tactics from recent media censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. CPJ calls on the Egyptian military to provide protection for journalists.

“The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The government has resorted to blanket censorship, intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs. The situation is frightening not only because our colleagues are suffering abuse but because when the press is kept from reporting, we lose an independent source of crucial information.”

  • Ahmed Bajano, an Al-Arabiya correspondent in Cairo, was beaten while covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration, according to news reports. Bajano and his camera crew were attacked in Mustafa Mahmoud Square by men in plainclothes. He suffered a concussion and was taken to a nearby hospital. Another Al-Arabiya journalist who spoke on the air via telephone but did not identify herself by name also reported that she had been beaten by plainclothes police or government-hired thugs. Al-Arabiya’s Cairo office was attacked and its windows broken, the satellite station reported. Another network reporter said on the air that her colleague Ahmad Abdel Hadi was seized by what appeared to be pro-Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square, forced in a car, and driven away. The reporter added that she has not been able to get through to Abdel Hadi on his mobile phone since.

  • A group of men described as “plainclothes police” attacked the headquarters of the independent daily Al-Shorouk in Cairo today, the paper reported. Reporter Mohamed Khayal and photographer Magdi Ibrahim were injured. Ibrahim’s camera was smashed. The editorial team of another independent daily, Al-Masry al-Youm, decided to evacuate its headquarters in downtown Cairo after hearing about the attack on Al-Shorouk, according to the paper’s website. The website also reported that army officers confiscated a press card and a memory card from one of its reporters on the street today.

  • Men in plainclothes surrounded the office of Sawsan Abu Hussein, deputy editor of the Egyptianmagazine October after she called in to a television program to report on violence against protesters, Abu Hussein said on Al-Jazeera. The magazine’s editor-in chief, Magdi al-Daqaq, a long time Mubarak supporter, was with the men, Abu Hussein told Al-Jazeera’s anchor on the air.

  • Police arrested four Israeli journalists for allegedly violating the curfew in Cairo and for entering the country on tourist visas, according to news reports. Three of the journalists reportedly work for Israel’s Channel 2, while the fourth reports for an unnamed Israel-based Arabic news website, according to news reports. But Channel 2 told CPJ that the station does not employ the three journalists. The names and correct affiliation of the arrested reporters remain unclear.

  • Belgian journalist Maurice Sarfatti, who writes under the name Serge Dumont and works as a Middle East correspondent for the Brussels-based Le Soir, Geneva-based Le Temps, and French newspaper La Voix du Nord, was beaten and arrested today while he was on assignment in the Shubra neighborhood in central Cairo, according a statement from Le Soir. Sarfatti sent the following to Le Soir from his mobile phone: “It was violent. I received a stream of blows to the face. They claimed that I was pro-Baradei. Then I was taken to a military barracks on the outskirts of town.” Mohamed ElBaradei is a prominent opposition figure. He added, “I am under the care of 2 soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles and bayonets. They say I’ll be taken to the secret services. They accuse me of being a spy.”

  • CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square. “We were set upon by pro-Mubarak supporters punching us in the head, attacking my producer Marianne Fox and my cameraman as well as trying to grab his camera, trying to break his camera,” Cooper said on the air. “They didn’t want any pictures taken,” he added.

  • Two unnamed Associated Press correspondents were roughed up while covering a pro-Mubarak gathering, AP reported.

  • Danish media reported that Danish senior Middle East Correspondent Steffen Jensen was beaten today by pro-Mubarak supporters with clubs while reporting live on the phone to Danish TV2 News from Cairo. The attackers demanded his phone and passport. Jensen said he is currently being held by soldiers in Tahrir Square. He said he does not know if the soldiers are holding him for safety reasons or if he is being officially detained. He has no serious injuries.

  • The BBC reported that its correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes’ car was forced off the road in Cairo “by a group of angry men.” He has detained by the men, who handed him off to secret police agents who handcuffed and blindfolded him and an unnamed colleague and took them to an interrogation room. They were released after three hours.

  • Jon Bjorgvinsson, a correspondent for RUV, Iceland’s national broadcaster, but on assignment for Swiss television in Cairo, was attacked on Tuesday as he and a crew were filming. The journalist and his team were apparently accused of being foreign spies, according to Icelandic news website Ice News. Bjorgvinsson was “knocked to the ground, his camera was broken, and his clothes were ripped.” Ice News reported that, according to RUV, police arrested the television station’s other cameraman, which the site did not name.

  • Al-Jazeera continues to face pressure from the government-owned Nilesat satellite provider. The network reported that it will take legal actions against Nilesat’s management and that the station will demand compensation for the blockage of its signal. The Qatar-based station also reported that Jordanian Media City, a private media hub, informed Al-Jazeera that it is facing pressure from Nilesat management to remove the station from the media bundle it provides to viewers.