Demonstrators protest outside the presidential palace in Cairo. (AFP/Mahmoud Khaled)
Two journalists arrested during this protest in Cairo have reported being brutally assaulted while in custody. (AFP/Gianluigi Guercia)

Egyptian journalists report being brutalized in custody

New York, May 7, 2012–Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces must immediately investigate reports that two journalists were brutalized in military custody and bring the perpetrators to full account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Ahmed Ramadan and Islam Abu al-Ezz, both journalists working for the online independent daily Al-Badil, said they were viciously beaten by soldiers as they covered clashes in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo on Friday, news reports said. The journalists were arrested and then assaulted by military police while in custody, Al-Badil reported.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces must swiftly and thoroughly investigate reports that Ahmed Ramadan and Islam Abu al-Ezz were brutalized in custody,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “These reports depict an anything-goes atmosphere in which military authorities act with impunity. The council must send a clear message that it will not tolerate such a climate.”

Ramadan and Abu al-Ezz were captured at the protest by unidentified armed thugs who attacked them with swords and then handed them over to the military, news reports said. They were taken to the military prosecutor’s office where they were beaten with sticks, kicked repeatedly, and insulted, the journalists said. The police denied Abu al-Ezz his medication and confiscated the journalists’ belongings, news reports said.

The two journalists were transferred to Tora Prison, southeast of Cairo, where they were held in the same ward as hardened criminals and repeatedly assaulted, Al-Badil reported. They were ordered to crawl on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs while soldiers repeatedly kicked and beat them, the report said. The two journalists identified two military officers by name, claiming that they had supervised the assaults.

Ramadan suffered broken fingers and a fractured right hand that required surgery, and also had bruises all over his body, the paper reported. Abu al-Ezz suffered a head wound that required stitches and also had several bruises all over his body, the report said.

Al-Badil Editor-in-Chief Khaled el-Balshy told CPJ that military prosecutors had ordered the journalists to be detained for 15 days pending an investigation for allegedly attacking the defense ministry. But the journalists were released on Sunday evening after protests by Al-Badil and the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, el-Balshy said.

Abeer Saadi, a board member of the syndicate, told CPJ that all of the journalists detained since Friday had been released as a result of the syndicate protesting their detention. Saadi also said that the syndicate would file a comprehensive complaint against the military, detailing all the attacks against journalists. El-Balshy told CPJ that Al-Badil also planned to file a complaint.

In a separate development, news accounts have reported additional attacks against journalists in Cairo and the port city of Suez. Sayyid Shakir, a photographer for the independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm, was beaten by two military officers on Friday while he photographed the state security building in Suez, the paper reported. He was briefly detained, the report said. Hamada Elrasam, a freelance photographer who contributes to The Associated Press, was attacked by uniformed military personnel on Saturday who chased him, beat him, and confiscated his camera while reprimanding him for taking pictures of them, Elrasam told CPJ. The journalist was covering a protest in front of a military court in Cairo, he said.

CPJ documented 18 cases of assault and arrest against journalists in Cairo in three days. The past week has marked the largest series of attacks against the press in Egypt since CPJ documented a spike in attacks in February. In December and November alone, CPJ documented 50 anti-press attacks during clashes between protesters and security forces in Egypt.