Press threatened and detained as Egypt marks uprising anniversary

New York, January 26, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the harassment and detention of journalists in Egypt on Sunday during mass demonstrations to mark the fourth anniversary of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

A series of attacks against the press, including at least 11 cases of journalists being detained, a reporter being beaten by protesters, and two photographers injured by bird shot were documented in news reports and by local press freedom group Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO) and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. The journalists had been covering rallies in which at least 20 people were killed during clashes with security officials, according to Human Rights Watch.

The crackdown comes days after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was due to pardon imprisoned journalists and political prisoners “who were not involved in incidents that harmed the country,” in a move that would have coincided with the anniversary, according to news reports.

Egypt’s Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim said in a press conference on Monday that he was monitoring media reactions to the killing of demonstrators and said some journalists had insulted him with their reporting. When asked about the detentions and harassment of the press, the minister joked that he would have arrested all journalists, not just those covering the protests this weekend, according to news reports.

“Instead of releasing journalists, the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is continuing its efforts to intimidate and threaten those who are covering events of public interest in Egypt,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on authorities to refrain from harassing journalists and to investigate any abuses carried out against the press.”

Among those detained was Ester Meerman, a Dutch freelancer who works for NTR (Dutch public radio) among other outlets, according to news reports. She was covering protests in downtown Cairo when police questioned her about her press credentials before taking her to Abdeen police station for further questioning and then releasing her, according to reports.

Ahmed Sherif, a correspondent for the privately owned Veto news website, and Mohamed Shaaban, a correspondent for the privately owned Dot Masr news website, were arrested while covering demonstrations in Giza, according to JATO and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. They were released from Al-Omraniyah police station after being held for a few hours, the syndicate said in its statement.

Sara Hashem, a reporter for the independent daily Al-Fagr, said in a YouTube broadcast that she was arrested near Tahrir Square while covering demonstrations. She said that police handed her to pro-government demonstrators after telling them she was an anti-government protester. One of them dragged her to the ground while others punched and slapped her, she said. In a statement broadcast on the Al-Fagr YouTube channel, Hashem said she fainted during the attack and was briefly hospitalized. A video on the Cairo News website showed Hashem being taken away by what she later said were pro-government protesters, while screaming for mercy and saying she is a journalist.

Among the other journalists detained were Dot Masr reporters Mohamed Wesam, Mohamed Amina, and photographer Ahmed Adel; Veto editor Mohamed Mahrous and photographer Moamen Samir; Ona News Agency correspondent Shams Eddin Murtada; Masrawy news website photographer Alaa Al-Qassas; and Albawaba News website correspondent Iman Ahmed, according to JATO and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. The groups said that all of those detained were later released. It is not clear if charges will be brought against any of them.

Masrawy showed video on YouTube of its photographer Nader Nabil and Al-Badeel photographer Amr Abdel Rahman running away after being hit in the head with bird shot by police while covering clashes in downtown Cairo on Sunday.

In a Twitter post, Orla Guerin, the BBC’s Cairo correspondent, said her team was warned by a plainclothes police officer that they would be shot if they continued to film in the Ain Shams neighborhood of Cairo, where police were looking for Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators.

Egypt was ranked six in CPJ’s list of worst jailers of journalists worldwide, with at least 12 journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2014. CPJ has often criticized the Al-Sisi government’s policy of dealing with press violations, and produced the documentary “Under Threat” last year, which shows the risks journalists face inside the country.