Journalists assaulted while covering rally

New York, May 26, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assault of several foreign and local journalists by government supporters as police looked on during demonstrations in Cairo yesterday.

Journalists told CPJ that the attacks took place as they were covering demonstrations in downtown Cairo organized by Kifaya (Enough), an opposition group that was protesting yesterday’s referendum to allow only limited presidential elections in Egypt.

Five journalists interviewed by CPJ said that security forces nearby did nothing to impede the several dozen attackers who descended upon the protestors and journalists and began punching, kicking, and slapping them. Some female reporters were groped by the assailants.

Shaymaa Abol Kheir, of the weekly opposition newspaper Al-Dustour, told CPJ that a person she believes to be a security agent stopped the taxi that she and a colleague had entered and forced them out of the car. Abol Kheir said she and her colleague were handed over to female government supporters who beat them, tore their clothes, and groped them.

Gamal Fahmi, a member of the board of the Press Syndicate and contributor to the weekly Al-Arabi, told CPJ that he and Mohamed Abdel Kouddous, another prominent syndicate member, were also pushed and punched in the melee. Other journalists told CPJ that they were punched, kicked, groped, and had their clothing ripped.

Egyptian authorities appear to be growing more sensitive to coverage of anti-government protests or debates. Earlier this week, reporters from Arabic satellite channels Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra were prevented from covering a conference hosted by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies about constitutional reform; two weeks ago, police detained several Al-Jazeera staffers attempting to cover a national gathering of judges.

“We are appalled by these orchestrated attacks and call on Egyptian authorities to put an end them at once,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.