New York, March 9, 2011—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by an attack on the Ouzo Hotel in the rebel-held city of Benghazi in eastern Libya on Tuesday. Unknown assailants threw an explosive device into the hotel, which has been the primary residence for journalists in the city, in the early morning hours, according to international news reports. Foreign journalists have also been detained in various towns in Libya by the authorities; all were eventually released. In Yemen, a correspondent was attacked and threats were made against Al-Jazeera. In Egypt, officers beat and injured a local journalist.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, assailants whom witnesses said may have belonged to Libya’s Revolutionary Guards threw a hand grenade into the lobby of the Ouzo Hotel in central Benghazi and fled the scene, according to international and regional news reports. No deaths or injuries were reported, German Press Agency DPA reported. A BBC spokeswoman said on Tuesday that three BBC employees were detained overnight but have since been released. The BBC did not provide additional information. Reuters quoted government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim as saying that “the military don’t have any experience dealing with the media. They are involved in ground operations. They don’t want any media presence.”
“Colonel Qaddafi’s government invited journalists to Tripoli and cannot pick and choose what they can cover,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The attack on the Ouzo Hotel underscores the dangers faced by journalists covering this conflict. Those responsible for security in Benghazi and other areas under rebel control must ensure the safety of journalists.”
In Yemen, a police officer in Sana’a physically assaulted Al-Arabiya correspondent Jamal Noman as he covered a sanitation workers’ strike in the capital on Monday, a local journalist told CPJ. The police officer also tried, but failed, to confiscate Noman’s camera. On Tuesday, an unidentified person called Al-Jazeera Yemen correspondent Ahmad al-Shalafi and threatened to kidnap his children if he did not cease his critical reporting, local journalists told CPJ. The threats came after al-Shalafi’s coverage of disturbances in the capital’s central prison. The caller said: “Do you want us to release the prisoners so they can violate you?” Al-Shalafi has previously received similar threats after he covered extensive demonstrations calling for Yemen’s president to step down. Two other journalists recently sent by Al-Jazeera to cover the social unrest in Yemen, Abdul Haq Sadah and Ahmad Zeidan, also received similar threats that demanded their departure from Yemen, according to local journalists.
The Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate’s secretary-general, Marwan Damaj, said in a statement that he was disappointed that complaints by the syndicate and individual journalists about such threats have been disregarded by the authorities.
On Sunday in Egypt, State Security Investigations (SSI) officers brutally attacked the independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm‘s correspondent Mohamed al-Sayyid Sulaiman in the Red Sea town of Hurgada. Sulaiman was filming officers burn SSI documents in the al-Ahya’a area on the outskirts of Hurgada when officers threatened to kill him and he fled. Four officers followed him and beat him on the head with a glass bottle. According to the independent daily, Sulaiman had received a tip that officers were burning documents after similar incidents had taken place in various Egyptian cities and towns. Sulaiman lost consciousness and was transported by three officers to a private clinic where he received medical care.
Since the attack, Egypt’s attorney general has ordered all SSI facilities closed and has suspended the activities of the widely feared secret police body.
“It is imperative that the authorities in Yemen and Egypt launch immediate and credible investigations into the increasingly threatening attacks on journalists. Not doing so risks further violence against the media,” Mahoney said.