In Egypt the situation for media and foreign journalists, in terms of freedoms, accessibility of information, personal safety has deteriorated noticeably within the past year, according to an NGO report issued Monday.
The Association for Freedom of Thinking and Expression (AFTE), a Cairo-based NGO concerned essentially with media and students freedoms, says 34 foreign journalists have been arrested since 30 June 2013, this is half of the total number of journalist arrests since 2011.
AFTE’s "Report on the situation of foreign correspondents in Egypt," counted 184 assaults that targeted foreign journalists between 2011 and 2014. The reported incidents include physical assaults, arrests, confiscating or breaking cameras and one case of rape claimed by CBS correspondent Lara Logan.
Logan said she was attacked by dozens of civilians, who dressed her down and raped her for 40 minutes until she was rescued by a group of women backed by army personnel.
In three years, 68 arrests have taken place. The report also states that this period has observed 64 incidents of physical aggression and injuries during the same period, in addition to five incidents of sexual assaults against foreign female reporters.
Wally Nell, a photojournalist for the California-based Zuma Press, suffered multiple pellet injuries as he covered protests on 6 October bridge in February 2011. "I was targeted by a policeman as he saw me taking photos of what happened. He directly shot me with pellets," Nell's testimony read.
The report says 2011 was the cruellest for foreign journalists with 112 assaults, followed by 2013 which witnessed 61 incidents.
During this period, two journalists lost their lives while doing their jobs.
A 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) counted eight cases of killing Egyptian and foreign journalists since the 2011 uprising.
The report attributes the hostility that journalists face in Egypt to the anti-foreigner tone that state institutions have adopted since the beginning of 2011 uprising. A collective attitude of “xenophobia” is partly responsible for charges against journalists and activists receiving foreign funds and allegedly aligning with foreign agendas.
The report relied on interviews with foreign journalists that write for many prominent international newspapers such as The Economist, The Daily Telegraph, Washington Post and others that have been working in Egypt since 2011, as well as incidents and testimonies that have been reported and published throughout the past three years.
During the first transitional period (2011-2012) AFTE documented five incidents. Marking it a relatively calm period though "not necessarily because of facilitations or intended improvements by authorities.”
Restrictions imposed on local media were tighter than on foreigners, who faced a "less hostile environment" under Muslim Brotherhood rule, as AFTE cited.
Nevertheless, 11 assaults against foreign journalists –mostly sexual – were documented during this period. Most notable was the death of the American photojournalist Andrew Butcher in Alexandria.
The second half of 2013 witnessed an upturn in violence against journalists. One foreign journalist was killed while covering the dispersal of Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in, in addition to 13 injuries throughout the year. Twenty-eight foreign journalists were also temporarily detained, while six were sentenced to prison.
In 2014, the most widely covered incident that represented a hostile environment toward foreign journalists was the case of Al Jazeera journalists, who were sentenced between seven and ten years in prison. Two foreigners were among the accused, Canadian Mohammed Fahmi Fadel, and Australian Peter Greste.
The case brought about enraged reactions from both the international community and local journalists in Egypt, who deemed charges of working with a “terror cell” as fabricated.
The report concluded with five recommendations. The Egyptian NGO demanded that the state stops supporting "hate speech" against foreign media and adhere to the international conventions that oblige it to protect the journalists.
AFTE also demanded facilitating the work of journalists and the procedures of getting work permits as well as recognising journalists' right to reach and distribute information.