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Journalists targeted for exposing Egypt state violence

Security forces accused of targeting journalists trying to expose state violence in Egypt, SCAF statements deliberately stir mistrust and misinformation

Salma Shukrallah , Monday 19 Dec 2011
Omar Saeed
A snap shot of reporter Omar Saeed injured by a rock thrown by military while covering clashes near Cabinet on Friday 16 December (Photo: ONTV)
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Views: 4412

As violence has grown in Egypt, the media has faced increasing risks and dangers. Journalists, photographers and filmmakers have been beaten, arrested, and had equipment confiscated.

Many expected the January 25 Revolution to grant journalists more freedom to do their jobs, however, in fact their jobs have become more difficult and more dangerous than ever before.  

State officials have accused Egyptian and foreign media of attempting to create strife between the people and the army for its coverage of military and police violence.

In the recent military raid on Tahrir Square, media personnel and cameras became a primary target. Men in military uniform, assisted by plainclothes men, confiscated cameras and smashed them.

Reporters and filmmakers on rooftops surrounding the square were not excluded from the attacks. Al-Jazeera English producer Adam Makary told Ahram Online that 20 plain-clothed men stormed his hotel overlooking the square and smashed any camera they found.  

Makary saw the men severely beating a French reporter and a female member of staff at the hotel, after which he hid in a closet and heard more people being beaten and equipment being smashed. According to Makary, the plain-clothed men who attacked the hotel – whilst protesters were being evicted from Tahrir – were “instructing each other and everything seemed very orchestrated.”

Meanwhile, filmmaker Cressida Trew was filming from a friend’s flat overlooking the square when a military officer, assisted by three others, confiscated her cameras. According to Trew, she tried to negotiate with the officer to take her memory card and leave the camera but her proposal was refused. Two more media personnel accompanying Trew also had their cameras taken in addition to all their lenses.

This was not the first time the media had been targeted since military took power. Makary explained that this was the third time he had been attacked while doing his job, it had happened twice before in Alexandria.

Masry Al-Youm photographer Ahmed Abd El-Fattah lost his eye while covering clashes near the Ministry of Interior in Mohamed Mahmoud Street where 40 people were killed and over a thousand injured.

Abd El-Fattah said police officers shot at his eyes. Although activists have also lost their eyes and even their lives, Abd El-Fattah said his injury was no coincidence as media were being targeted. “Five Masry Al-Youm reporters, in addition to ten working for other media institutions, were injured that day and they all had cameras,” he said.

Moreover, Abd El-Fattah said media personnel often suffered accusations of spying while on the job. “People are affected by the military’s media and the military also has secret agents all around to stir such accusations,” he said.

On 21 November the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate released a statement condemning the use of violence by security forces against five journalists in Alexandria. The journalists, who worked for a variety of Egyptian news outlets – including El-Akhbar, El-Shorouk and El-Tahrir dailies, and the MENA news agency – were attacked while covering clashes between protesters and security forces.

According to the syndicate’s statement, one journalist was detained, forced to strip, blindfolded, and beaten with a wooden stick for five hours. He was also verbally abused and had money stolen from him. Only days earlier Ahram Online journalist Ahmed Feteha was robbed and beaten twice by police while covering protests in downtown Cairo.

Syndicate officials demanded the interior minister investigate the incidents, reveal the identity of the officers involved, and put them all on trial immediately. None of these demands have been fulfilled.

On the contrary, the media continues to be held accountable for escalating tension when military or police violence is exposed. After the recent clashes near the Cabinet office on Sunday, SCAF member Adel Emara again accused the media:

“There won’t be any restrictions on the media but we need all journalists to verify their information before publishing it and to only offer the truth … We are waiting for the general prosecutor to reveal the details of what happened, until then we cannot be sure of any speculation,” said Emara after harshly criticising private media for not taking into account the “interests” of the country.

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