A man runs past a burning vehicle in Ramses Square. (AFP/Virginie Nguyen Hoang)
A man runs past a burning vehicle in Ramses Square. (AFP/Virginie Nguyen Hoang)

Journalists detained, attacked amid unrest in Egypt

New York, August 19, 2013–New York, August 19, 2013–Several journalists working for international media said they were assaulted or briefly detained over the weekend. The attacks and harassment came as Egyptian authorities publicly accused international journalists of distorting coverage of recent events.

The State Information Service, a government-run agency tasked with overseeing editorial content in the news, issued a statement on Saturday that claimed that international media were “conveying a distorted image that is very much far from the facts.” On Sunday, Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi criticized the foreign media for failing to report objectively on the week’s events that have left nearly a thousand dead and thousands others injured, news reports said.

“Recent statements by Egyptian authorities against the foreign media are deeply disturbing. Having successfully silenced many critical local news outlets, the government is now trying to harangue, harass, and intimidate international journalists into toeing the line,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator. “Furthermore, the government’s shrill accusations of bias appear to be the basis for several civilian attacks on journalists.”

Security forces over the weekend laid siege for 24 hours to Fateh Mosque in Ramses Square, which was being used by pro-Morsi supporters as a field hospital, according to news reports. Anti-Morsi demonstrators surrounded the mosque, heightening the tension amid country-wide clashes that left at least 173 dead over Friday and Saturday.

Security services on Saturday arrested two Turkish journalists–Heba Zakaria for the state-owned Anadolu news agency and Metin Turan for the public broadcaster TRT–during the siege on Fateh Mosque and held them at Tora prison, according to news reports. Zakaria was released after eight hours. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said in a press conference that Turan would likely be freed today. It is unclear if Turan has been released.

Patrick Kingsley, a correspondent for The Guardian, said that he was detained multiple times on Saturday while covering clashes in Ramses square, according to news reports. He was first briefly detained at a local police station and released with “strict instructions to return to my own country,” he said on Twitter. Later that day, unidentified assailants seized Kingsley, along with his phone and laptop, and took him to a police station, he said. From there, he said, he was taken to another police station, but released shortly after. His equipment has not been returned.

Security forces on Saturday detained Brazilian freelance journalist Hugo Bachega while he was covering the clashes in Ramses Square, and held him for seven hours, according to news reports. He was released after the Brazilian embassy in Cairo raised the issue of his detention with the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, news reports said.

Military soldiers detained a France 2 crew led by reporter Dorothée Olliéric near Fateh Mosque on Saturday and held the journalists for about 10 hours, the station reported. Der Spiegel‘s Matthias Gebauer said on Twitter that police arrested him in Rabaa Al-Adawiya on Sunday and held him for seven hours, accusing the Western press of biased reporting.

At least two other journalists remained imprisoned since their arrests on Wednesday. Al-Jazeera called on the Egyptian authorities to release its correspondent, Abdullah al-Shami, who was transferred to Abu Zaabal prison on Sunday after his detention was extended by 15 days, the network said today. Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance journalist detained on Wednesday, was also transferred to Abu Zaabal after his detention was extended by 15 days, Sara al-Sherif of the No to Military Trials human rights group told CPJ. No charges against the journalists have been disclosed.

Several journalists reported being attacked over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal‘s Matt Bradley and The Independent‘s Alastair Beach were attacked by protesters outside Fateh Mosque on Saturday, according to news reports. Beach was hit in the head with a stick and Bradley’s notebook was stolen. The journalists escaped the assailants when soldiers pulled them into an armored personnel carrier, reports said.

Nancy Youssef, McClatchy’s Middle East Bureau Chief, said on Twitter that she was covering the clashes in Ramses Square on Saturday when a police officer told protesters to attack her because she was American. She said she was roughed up before she managed to escape.

Annabell Van Den Berghe, a freelance journalist with the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, told CPJ that the radio crew was attacked in Ramses Square on Saturday. The crew was confronted by unidentified assailants who accused them of being American spies and said Western media were biased. The assailants beat the crew’s fixer, but did not harm the journalists.

At least three journalists have been killed, and several detained, attacked, or obstructed from reporting on the recent bloody events in Egypt. At least five news outlets that were shut down in early July remain closed.

CPJ released a special report on Wednesday called “On the Divide: Press Freedom at Risk in Egypt.” The report chronicles how both the Morsi administration and the current government have disappointed the high hopes for press freedom in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Egypt page.