Plainclothes police chase what Reuters says is unidentified foreign journalist today in Cairo. (Reuters /Goran Tomasevic )
Plainclothes police chase what Reuters says is unidentified foreign journalist today in Cairo. (Reuters /Goran Tomasevic )

Egypt instigates media blackout, police target journalists

New York, January 28, 2011–Egyptian authorities have taken unprecedented measures to block media coverage of widespread protests against the government, which are on their fourth day. CPJ condemns Cairo’s news blackout and calls for authorities to immediately restore Internet and mobile phone services, end the targeting of the press, and allow media to conduct their work freely. 

Since Tuesday, Egypt has witnessed widespread protests against poverty and corruption, and calls for democratic changes. Authorities suspended Internet and mobile phone service, according to news reports and mobile operators, in an attempt to block media coverage and communications between protesters. Security forces today continued violent physical attacks on journalists.

“We are deeply disturbed by the government’s efforts to impose a media blackout in Egypt,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Security forces are also becoming increasingly violent against both demonstrators and journalists. The government in Cairo seems to have learned nothing from the Tunisian experience that unfolded just two short weeks ago.”

CPJ is tracking how the Egyptian government is shutting down Internet access and SMS service. See CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator Danny O’Brien’s piece on the situation here.

“There is no greater disruption for the work of journalists than the disruption of mobile phone services and text messages; this in itself constitutes an attack on journalists and their freedom to cover the events that are shaking Egypt now,” Al-Jazeera correspondent Samir Ali said on-air.

Below is a list of attacks in which security forces have targeted journalists:

  • BBC correspondent Asadallah al-Sawi was injured when security forces hit him in the back of the head, sources within the BBC Arabic service told CPJ. Al-Sawi was taken to the hospital and is recovering. (See BBC video of the journalist describing his beating here.)
  • Ahmad Mansour, a veteran Al-Jazeera journalist, was detained for over an hour in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo, Al-Jazeera reported. The Qatar-based satellite station reported that several journalists were prevented from entering Egypt through the Cairo International Airport, including its own reporter, Yassir Abu Hilala.
  • Four French journalists, working for Le Figaro, Journal du Dimanche, Sipa Photo Agency, and Paris Match, have been detained while covering street protests in Cairo, according to news reports.
  • CNN journalists were assaulted and their equipment confiscated while covering the street protests, the station reported. Ben Wedeman, CNN senior international correspondent, and Mary Rogers, a photojournalist with Wedemen, were surrounded and attacked by plainclothes police who took their cameras.

Gamal Fahmy, a senior member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, told CPJ that photographers and cameramen have been clearly targeted since demonstrations started on Tuesday. “There is a clear trend of attacking photographers and cameramen, confiscating their equipment or erasing their memory cards and the goal is clear: to interfere with images of the demonstrations,” Fahmy said.  

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