Egypt: Mubarak starts the Crack Down on Journalists and Human Rights Groups

Major Ahmed Mahmoud Abdel Meguid has been caught attempting to burn down the  National Museum

Egypt violence exposes secret tools of state repression

International journalists covering events in Egypt this week have had a small but painful taste of “the dark side” – the secret security apparatus used by governments across the region, day in day out, to keep unpopular rulers in power. The BBC, CNN and several Arab media organisations have all been experiencing harassment, crude and at times violent, by plain clothes “thugs” supporting President Hosni Mubarak. On Wednesday the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was handcuffed, hooded and interrogated, while another journalist, from Al-Arabiya TV, was beaten so badly by plain clothes men he had to be hospitalised. Local opposition figures would simply say: “Welcome to our world.”

Whether it is the official secret police of the State Security Institution (SSI), the intelligence agents of the Mukhabaraat, or just hired street thugs, these instruments of power have long been used to intimidating effect on those opposing the government or even speaking out about human rights abuses. Tom Porteous, UK Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the BBC: “State repression and abuse are coming out of the torture chambers and onto the streets”. In its just-published 2011 review of human rights around the world, HRW accuses Egypt’s secret police and uniformed police alike of routine, systematic torture of prisoners. “This is used both to extract confessions,” says Mr Porteous, “and as an instrument of punishment and deterrent”.

We’ve compiled a list of all the journalist who have been in some way threatened, attacked or detained while reporting in Egypt.  When you put it all into one list, it is a rather large number in such a short period of time.  (UPDATED – send us more stories if you get them)

APTN had their satellite dish agressively dismantled, leaving them and many other journalists who rely on their feed point no way to feed material.

ABC News international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that on Wednesday her car was surrounded by men banging on the sides and windows, and a rock was thrown through the windshield, shattering glass on the occupants. They escaped without injury

And ABC Producer and Cameraman driving were carjacked at a checkpoint and driven to a compound where they were surrounded by men who threatened to behead them.  They were able to convince the men to release them without any harm. 

ABC/Bloomberg’s Lara Setrakian also attacked by protesters

CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera/  (wires)

Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled/ (wires)

Fox Business Channel’s Ashley Webster reported that security officials burst into a room where he and a camera operator were observing the demonstration from a balcony. They forced the camera inside the room. He called the situation “very unnerving” and said via Twitter that he was trying to lay low    / (wires)

Fox News Channel foreign correspondent Greg Palkot and producer Olaf Wiig were hospitalized in Cairo after being attacked by protestors.   

CBS News’ Katie Couric harassed by protesters   (link)

CBS newsman Mark Strassman said he and a camera operator were attacked as they attempted to get close to the rock-throwing and take pictures. The camera operator, who he would not name, was punched repeatedly and hit in the face with Mace.  / (wires)

CBS News’ Lara Logan reports she was marched back to her hotel at gunpoint when she and a crew were taking pictures of protests (link)  Time Magainze reports that Lara Logan has been detained by Egyptian police.  (link)

Two New York Times journalists have been arrested. (A Times spokeswoman said that the two journalists were “detained by military police overnight in Cairo and are now free.” )     (link)

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl wrote Thursday that witnesses say Leila Fadel, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, and photographer Linda Davidson “were among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by Military Police.”  Fadel and Davidson have since been released.  /   (link)

BBC’s Jerome Boehm also targeted by protesters / (link)

BBC also reported their 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. /   (link) 

Reporter Jean-Francois Lepine of Canada’s CBC all-French RDI network said that he and a cameraman were surrounded by a mob that began hitting them, until they were rescued by the Egyptian army   / (wires)

The Toronto Globe and Mail said on its website that one of its reporters, Sonia Verma, said the military had “commandeered us and our car” in Cairo/ (link)

Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up. AP’s Nasser Gamil mentioned in one article (unclear if he was one of the original 2 mentioned)  / wires and (link)

Reuters’ Simon Hanna tweeted today that a “gang of thugs” stormed the news organization’s Cairo office and being smashing windows    (link)

The website of Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper said Belgian reporter Serge Dumont, whose real name is Maurice Sarfatti, was beaten Wednesday / (wires)

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/ (link)

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 / (link) 

Two Swedish reporters (from Aftonbladet tabloid) / (link)

epa photojournalist; German ZDF; German ARD / (link)

A reporter for Turkey’s Fox TV, his Egyptian cameraman and their driver were abducted by men with knives while filming protests Wednesday, but Egyptian police later rescued them, said Anatolia, a Turkish news agency /  (link)

Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT, said its Egypt correspondent, Metin Turan, was beaten / (link)

One Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver / (wires)

*note: unclear if this is the same person identified in another: The injured Greek journalist, Petros Papaconstantinou, said on Kathimerini’s website that: “I was spotted by Mubarak supporters. They … beat me with batons on the head and stabbed me lightly in the leg.

A Greek freelance photographer punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment / (wires)

In addition, five Chinese journalists were briefly detained after authorities found bullet proof vests in their luggage, along with more than 20 walkie-talkies and satellite phones, the officials said. They were allowed to leave after the equipment was confiscated. / (wires)

RT TV crew injured  (link)

A correspondent and a cameraman working for Russia’s Zvezda television channel were detained by men in plainclothes and held overnight Tuesday, Anastasiya Popova of Vesti state television and radio said on air from Cairo / (link)

French international news channel France 24 said three of its journalists had been detained while covering protests in Egypt and were being held by “military intelligence services”.  (link)

French photojournalist from SIPA Press agency Alfred Yaghobzadeh is being treated by anti-government protestors after being wounded during clashes between pro-government supporters and anti-government protestors / (link)

Police arrested four Israeli journalists for allegedly violating the curfew in Cairo and for entering the country on tourist visas, according to news reports. / (link)

Al Jazeera reported Thursday that two of its reporters were attacked en route to Cairo airport, along with cameraman being assaulted near Tahrir Square /    (link) 

al Arabiya’s Ahmed Abdullah (and station was stormed) /  (link)

ALSO – Al-Arabiya correspondent, Ahmed Bajano, in Cairo, was beaten while covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration. Another unidentified correspondent was also attacked. 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.  / (link)

Men in plainclothes surrounded the office of Sawsan Abu Hussein, deputy editor of the Egyptian magazine October after she called in to a television program to report on violence against protesters   (link)

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/ (link)

 – Compiled by ABC’s Erin McGlaughlin and Joanna Suarez

Amnesty International representatives detained in Cairo

3 February 2011

Two Amnesty International representatives have been detained by police in Cairo after the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre was taken over by military police this morning. The Amnesty International staff members were taken, along with Ahmed Seif Al Islam, Khaled Ali, a delegate from Human Rights Watch and others, to an unknown location in Cairo.  Amnesty International does not know their current whereabouts. “We call for the immediate and safe release of our colleagues and others with them who should be able to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt at this crucial time without fear of harassment or detention,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Journalists get attacked, arrested in Egypt

Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attacked pro-democracy protesters and targeted journalists in Cairo on Wednesday. The Cutline reported yesterday on pro-Mubarak mobs going after journalists from CNN, CBS, ABC and numerous international news outlets. The media crackdown seems to be accelerating today. So far, there have been several reports on Twitter indicating that pro-Mubarak mobs have attacked journalists and bloggers—and that some journalists have also been arrested by Mubarak’s much-feared police force. But it’s not only the police arresting members of the media. The AP reports that the Egyptian military is rounding up journalists, with correspondent Hadeel Al-Shalchi tweeting that two New York Times journalists have been arrested. (A Times spokeswoman said that the two journalists were “detained by military police overnight in Cairo and are now free.” ) Also, Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl wrote today that witnesses say Leila Fadel, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, and photographer Linda Davidson “were among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.” (They were later released).

The AP reported today that Mubarak supporters stabbed a Greek journalist with a screwdriver and punched a freelance photographer. Also, Al Jazeera reported today that two of its reporters were attacked en route to Cairo airport, along with cameraman being assaulted near Tahrir Square. “There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting,” State Dept. spokesman Philip Crowley wrote on Twitter. “We condemn such actions.” The White House has also condemned attacks against journalists. “The administration strongly condemns the violence today and strongly condemns violence against journalists in Egypt,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Cutline Wednesday. CNN’s Anderson Cooper described “pandemonium” Wednesday as his crew was attacked. Reuters’ Simon Hanna tweeted today that a “gang of thugs” stormed the news organization’s Cairo office and being smashing windows. Also, Hanna wrote that “two army men came into the building with guns, kicked out the thugs but were shouting and swearing at us.” Both Committee to Protect Journalists and ABC News each have running lists of journalists attacked: here and here.

There have been several reports over Twitter that Mubarak’s police have arrested “Sandmonkey,” a prominent Egyptian blogger and critic of the regime.  Just yesterday, he spoke to Pajamas Media TV about evading police officials who were apparently looking for him. (Later, Sandmonkey wrote on Twitter: I am ok. I got out. I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated , my car ripped apar& supplies taken #jan25). Mubarak’s authoritarian regime has long repressed the media and his police forces attacked journalists during last Friday’s major demonstration. The Egyptian government also shut down Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau Sunday, following the network’s exhaustive coverage since the uprising began. On Monday, The Cutline spoke with Amanpour, Cooper and other journalists in Egypt. At the time, they had been covering largely peaceful demonstrations staged by pro-democracy protesters. But now, with pro-Mubarak protesters on the streets, journalists aren’t safe. Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, wrote the following on Twitter today: “Journalists, now targets, disliked by mubarak supporters, forced to play cat-mouse game, broadcasting, moving, staying low profile.”

Vodafone: Egypt forced us to send text messages

LONDON – Egyptian authorities forced Vodafone to broadcast pro-government text messages during the protests that have rocked the country, the U.K.-based mobile company said Thursday. Micro-blogging site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone’s Egyptian customers showing text messages sent over the course of the demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime. A text message received Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country’s “honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor.” Another urged Egyptians to attend a pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo on Wednesday. The first was marked as coming from “Vodafone.”

The other was signed: “Egypt Lovers.” In a statement, Vodafone Group PLC said that the messages had been drafted by Egyptian authorities and that it had no power to change them. “Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable,” the statement said. “We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.” The company also said its competitors — including Egypt’s Mobinil and the United Arab Emirates’ Etisalat — were doing the same. Etisalat, known formally as Emirates Telecommunications Corp., declined comment. Vodafone said the texts had been sent “since the start of the protests,” which kicked off more than a week ago. Vodafone did not immediately return an e-mail asking why the company waited nearly 10 days to complain publicly. Its statement was released only after repeated inquiries by the AP.

Vodafone complains after Egyptian government forced it to broadcast pro-Mubarak text messages during riots

Vodafone says the Egyptian authorities forced it to broadcast pro-government text messages during the protests that have rocked the country. It called the practice ‘unacceptable’ and confirmed protests had been made to the government. Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone’s Egyptian customers showing pro-government text messages sent to them in the run-up to the violent clashes in central Cairo which broke out on Wednesday. Vodafone Group said in a statement today that Egyptian authorities have been using the country’s emergency laws to script text messages to its customers.
The UK-based company said it had no ability to change the content of the messages. Vodafone’s statement came as violent scenes erupted in Cairo again today as hired thugs and secret police loyal to the beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak continued to clash with protesters calling for regime change. It is believed as many as 300 people have died during the regime change protests. ‘Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable,’ the statement said. ‘We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.’

The company noted in its statement that the Egyptian government also has the power to compel other mobile operators, including Egypt’s Mobinil and Etisalat, to send pre-scripted text messages. It was not clear whether those companies were also involved. Vodafone did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the exact nature of the government messages, although Twitter users described them as carrying patriotic messages as well as attacks on ‘traitors’. A text message received on Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country’s ‘honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honour’. The sender is identified only as ‘Vodafone’.

Vodafone network ‘hijacked’ by Egypt

Mobile phone firm Vodafone has accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send unattributed text messages supporting the government. Vodafone was told to switch off services last week when protests against President Hosni Mubarak began. But the authorities then ordered Vodafone to switch the network back on, in order to send messages under Egypt’s emergency laws, the firm said. In a statement, Vodafone described the messages as “unacceptable”. “These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.”  The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that the government clampdown on internet services may have cost the Egyptian economy as much as $18m (£11m) a day or $90m in total. The impact of the communications block could be even greater, as it would be “much more difficult in the future to attract foreign companies and assure them that the networks will remain reliable”, said the OECD in a statement. In another development, the credit ratings agency Fitch has downgraded the Egypt’s debt grade by one notch to BB from BB+, citing the consequences of the continuing political unrest on the economy. The country’s debt grade has already been downgraded by two other ratings agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

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