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Journalists accused of working for Al Jazeera attacked on the anniversary of Egypt's revolution

Supporters of Egypt's General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demonstrate in Tahrir square in Cairo, on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising on 25 January
Supporters of Egypt's General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi demonstrate in Tahrir square in Cairo, on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising on 25 January

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

UPDATE: Terror charges for Al-Jazeera in Egypt prompt outcry from Article 19, the Committee to Project Journalists, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders. (31 January 2014)

On the anniversary of the January 25 revolution in Egypt, a joint operations room held by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and Journalists Against Torture Observatory documented 36 violations against journalists and photographers during their coverage of the events. The following report only includes cases that the operations room had monitored and is not inclusive of all violations that took place.
The violations against journalists varied between prevention from performing journalistic duties, arrest and physical assault to damaging and seizing their equipment therefore stripping away their right to cover events.

AFTE and the Observatory have emphasized that the violations committed against journalists are systematic and aimed at preventing the public from learning the facts about incidents of violence committed by police forces against protestors.

This systematic targeting of journalists also highlights the police forces' disrespect for the rule of law, which regards journalists as public servants and provides them with the legal protection of public servants when they are on duty. Targeting, instead of protecting, journalists displays the Egyptian authorities' lack of commitment to the protection of the right to freedom of the press granted by international law. Violating such freedoms exposes the authorities' fake allegations about the current period being a transition to a democratic state which respects the rule of law and human rights.

Cases of Assault:

A fair number of the attacks carried out against the journalists were actually committed by the public.

Journalist Basil El-Dabh of Daily News Egypt said in a written testimony to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression that he and freelance journalist Nadine Maroushi were harassed by a crowd of people which gathered around them after conducting some interviews near the Abdel Moneim Riad entrance of Tahrir Square. When they were asked about their work affiliation, El-Dabh replied accordingly and proceeded with his work. Someone in the crowd then claimed that the sound bites both journalists got would be used to make misleading video clips and that they worked for Al-Jazeera. The crowd grew in number and some of them called the police over to arrest the journalists.

While the journalists were trying to explain their work to the officers, the crowd turned violent and some people tried to grab Maroushi's scarf, almost strangling her in the process, while El-Dabh was beaten on his head and back. The police escorted both journalists to the entrance of a residential building and closed the door to keep the people away. Inside the building, they were questioned and their bags and phones searched. Once the crowd dissipated, the police escorted the two journalists out.

The public also assaulted journalist Walaa Waheed of Al Wafad newspaper in the Ismailia governorate. She was covering events around the revolution's anniversary as well when a group of people falsely claimed that she worked for Al-Jazeera and started attacking and insulting her. Some officers of the Armed Forces responsible for security and other members of political parties helped her out of the area to safety.

Security forces were also responsible for some of the violations committed against journalists. Samah Farag, the editor of Albawabah news website was covering the clashes between revolutionary groups and the security forces in Moustafa Mahmoud Square when the security forces arrested her and seized her camera and identification card. The forces were also aided by a group of people who, again, claimed that she worked for Al-Jazeera.

Prevention cases:

Security forces prevented journalist Ashraf Abass, one of the founders of Journalists against Torture Observatory, from getting on the metro due to his possession of a camera. Abass said that he was to be allowed to enter Mohamed Naguib metro station in the area of Downtown Cairo on the condition of performing a body search. He refused the procedure and suggested searching his belongings instead. When the officer insisted to unload Abass's bag, which Abass refused, he prevented him from entering to the metro. The officer considered the camera an object not to be allowed on the metro. Abass was denied the right to report the incident.

Journalist Khaled Hussein of Al-Youm 7 newspaper and correspondent Sahar Ali of Veto website were both prevented from photographing the clashes taking place between security forces and supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi in the area of Matareya. Both journalists were on Horeya Street photographing the clashes when an officer seized their cameras and investigated their identities. Their cameras were held for up to 45 minutes.

Furthermore, one of MBC Masr's cameramen was threatened by a security officer to stop videotaping the clashes in the area of Alf Maskan, or else, the officer threatened, he would tell the residents of the area that he was an Al-Jazeera cameraman.

Injuries:

Several journalists and photographers were subjected to injuries while covering the clashes on 25 January 2014. Reporter Mohamed Hafeez of El Shahed website was hit by birdshot in his right arm on Hatem Roushdy Street in the Beni Sueif governorate. The injury occurred during his covering of the clashes between the security forces and supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

In addition, photographer Abdullah AbulGheit of El Badil website, was also hit by birdshot while covering a demonstration led by Morsi supporters in 6 October city. He was hospitalized afterwards.

His colleague, photographer Hossam Bakir was shot in the abdomen and was sent at El Mounira hospital for treatment. Lastly, Rassd News Network (a Muslim Brotherhood news source) announced that one of its reporters was about to be shot by a sniper citing a recorded video of the incident.

In Mustapha Mahmoud Square, in Giza, Al-Aalam channel's team, was targeted by birdshot leaving their photographer Mohamed Bayoumi injured in his feet and arms. Their sound engineer Ali Abdel Wahab also fainted due to an injury to his head. The source of the birdshot remains unknown.

Cases of arrest and detention:

While covering the happenings in Tahrir Square, Abdel Khalek Salah, a reporter for Sada El Balad, was arrested simply for being accused of working for Al-Jazeera. Despite showing his newspaper press card proving otherwise, security forces arrested and transferred him to Kasr El Nil police station, where he was detained for a few hours and released later that same night.

Ahmed Fouad, a reporter for Karmouz news website, was arrested along with other journalists including Ahmed Hesham and Momhamed Gabr, while covering the protests in Alexandria. Journalist for El Wadi news website Eslam Ezzat was also arrested in Al Azbakeya. He was charged with possessing a bomb and a banner calling for the overthrow of the current regime despite having been in downtown Cairo covering demonstrations there.

It is clear from the aforementioned testimonies, facts and violations against journalists and photographers that the state – despite the passage of three years after Egypt's 25 January revolution in which freedom was the demand and the media played a crucial role – still practices the same policies that the revolution was against. These policies include a lack of commitment to the right to bodily integrity and free expression and the systematic presence of violations against freedom of the media and the press.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and the Journalists against Torture Observatory believe that the number of violations and attacks on journalists and photographers that transpired on 25 January 2014 were by far the greatest in number since the 25 January revolution. These attacks represent an outright crackdown on the rights and freedoms that the state is bound to protect according to the constitution adopted earlier this month and the international treaties and conventions ratified by Egypt, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The groups also call for Egypt to conduct an investigation into all the attacks and violations that took place on the anniversary and to emphasize that the restrictive policies practiced against media channels and their workers must cease, the journalists and photographers detained on 25 January must be released.

Click here to view a list of all cases of violations that have been monitored by the operations room.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Anti-press abuses on third anniversary of Egypt uprising

    Journalists working for Al-Jazeera and its affiliates have consistently been harassed by Egyptian authorities, and are seen by many Egyptians as being biased in favor of Morsi's government. Al-Jazeera denies the allegations.

  • IPI delegation makes emergency visit to Cairo

    A high-level delegation from the International Press Institute (IPI) met on 27 January in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy to discuss the media climate in Egypt, including the protection of journalists.

  • Egypt: Arab Spring anniversary a “horrible day for journalists”

    Journalist Nadine Maroushi who was attacked in Tahrir Square on Saturday has shared her traumatic experience on her blog: “In Tahrir Square yesterday a man suggested we worked for Al Jazeera. An angry crowd quickly formed around us. ‘You traitor, you pig,’ a veiled woman shouted at me. She pulled my hair and grabbed at my scarf, choking me. The police intervened; I showed my press pass. They took us away to a building just off the square and told us to hide there for an hour until the crowd calmed down.”

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