There has been an extremely heavy toll on journalists since President Mohamed Morsi’s removal by the army two months ago after a year in power that ended with six days of major street protests.
When the army ousted Morsi on 3 July, Reporters Without Borders urged the new interim government to respect its initial route map by quickly moving to “a new constitution that fully respects human rights, including freedom of information, and to free and democratic presidential and parliamentary elections with respect for pluralism.”
Since 3 July, a total of five journalists have been killed, 80 journalists have been arbitrarily detained (with seven still held) and at least 40 news providers have been physically attacked by the police or by pro-Morsi or pro-army demonstrators.
These violations of freedom of information have taken place in a highly polarized political environment that has made the situation extremely difficult and dangerous for journalists.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the climate of violence and political persecution in which both local and foreign journalists now have to operate in Egypt.
“It is unacceptable that journalists are continually being targeted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Reporters must be able to work without their lives being put in danger, regardless of the political fault lines. We deplore the passivity of the new Egyptian authorities and we urge them to react quickly by taking concrete measures to guarantee journalists’ safety and respect for freedom of information.”
Reporters Without Borders points out that media coverage of the events taking place in Egypt is essential for understanding the complexity of the situation on the ground.
The death of five journalists in the space of the past two months in Egypt is without precedent in the country’s contemporary history.
The first victim was Ahmed Samir Assem El-Senoussi, a photographer for the newspaper Al-Horreya Wal-Adalah (Freedom and Justice), who was among the 51 people killed when the army opened fire outside the Republican Guard complex in Cairo on 8 July. Senoussi was there to cover events.
In what was a black day for the media, three journalists – Sky News cameraman Mick Deane, Al-Akhbar reporter Ahmad Abdel Gawad and Rassd News Network photo-journalist Mosab Al-Shami were shot dead while covering clashes between the police and pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 14 August.
Finally, Tamer Abdel Raouf, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram’s regional bureau chief, was killed at an army checkpoint in Damanhur, in the northern governorate of Beheira, on the night of 19 August, when soldiers opened fire on his car. Hamed Al-Barbari, a reporter for the Egyptian daily Al-Gomhuria who was travelling with him, was wounded in the shooting.
More than 80 arrests
The police have arbitrarily arrested more than 80 journalists in the past two months. Most were held for less than 24 hours, but some were held for several days or weeks. A total of seven journalists, including three working for the Qatar-based TV news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, are still held.
Those still held include Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr cameraman Mohamed Badr, who was arrested in Cairo’s Ramses Square on 15 July. His initial 15-day detention period (the legal limit for detention without reference to a court) has been renewed twice without any charge being brought against him.
Abdallah Al-Shami, an Al-Jazeera reporter, and Mahmoud Abu Zied, a photographer who freelances forDemotix and Corbis, were transferred to Abu Zaabal prison in northern Cairo on 18 August, four days after their arrest in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square.
Ousama Shaker, a cameraman working for the newly-created pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV station Ahrar 25, was arrested while covering clashes at Damiette, north of Cairo, on 18 August. The detention of Shami, Zied and Shaker has been extended and all three are still being held.
Metin Turan of the Turkish state-owned news agency TRT was arrested while covering the forcible evacuation of Cairo’s Al-Fath Mosque by the security forces on 16 August. Tahir Osman Hamde, the Cairo bureau chief of another Turkish news media, the Ihlas News Agency (IHA), was detained after a raid on the bureau on the evening of 20 August.
An Al-Jazeera crew was arrested in Cairo on 27 August while doing a report on the situation in Egypt. Reporter Wayne Hay, cameraman Adil Bradlow and producer Russ Finn were expelled on 1 September without being able to recover their equipment. The crew’s Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, is still being held.
Two foreign journalists – Sebastian Backhaus and Marcin Mamon – have been arrested for violating the night curfew imposed under the state of emergency proclaimed on the 14 August, although the curfew is not supposed to apply to journalists or doctors. Mamon, a Polish documentary filmmaker, was arrested with his interpreter, Przemyslaw Szewczyka, on Alexandria on 25 August. They were freed 20 hours later, after the Polish embassy intervened.
Of a total of 80 arrests for short periods, 23 involved foreign journalists: Daniel Demoustier on 5 July, Emmerich Dirk of RTL on 8 July, Murat Uslu and Zafer Karakas of Star Haber, and Fatih Er and Tufan Guzelgun of A info on 9 July, Sebastian Backhaus on 14 August, Hibe Zekeriye of Anadolu Agency and Metin Turan of TRT on 16 August, Dorothée Olliéric, Stéphane Guillemot and Arnaud Gidon of France 2 on 17 August, Patrick Kingsley of The Guardian and Hugo Bachega and Mathias Gebauer of Der Spiegel on 18 August, Tahir Osman Hamde of the Ihlas News Agency on 20 August, Mitsuyoshi Iwashige on 21 August, Marcin Mamon and interpreter Przemyslaw Szewczyk on 25 August, a Reuters correspondent on 26 August and Wayne Hay, Russ Finn and Adil Bradlow of Al-Jazeera on 27 August.
Most of those detained for short periods were journalists with media that support the Muslim Brotherhood, or foreign journalists accused by the authorities of “biased” reporting.
The foreign media’s perceived “bias” was the subject of a statement that Egypt’s State Information Service issued in English on 17 August: “Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group in the form of intimidation operations and terrorizing citizens.”
More than 40 journalists attacked and injured
Reporters Without Borders has registered more than 40 cases of journalists being attacked and injured while covering demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood supporters and clashes with the police.
Several journalists sustained gunshot injuries while the security forces were dispersing pro-Morsi sit-ins on 14 August. They included Asma Waguih of Reuters, Tarek Abbas of Al-Watan, Najjar Ahmad of Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mohamed Al-Zaki of Al-Jazeera and an Associated Press journalist.
Many journalists have been physically attacked, often in a very violent manner and often at the same time that their equipment was taken from them. Most of such attacks were by demonstrators.
In one of the gravest cases, journalists Aya Hassan and Mohamed Momtaz were held for several hours by Morsi supporters inside sit-in tents in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 9 August and were very badly beaten. Momtaz had to be taken to hospital.
Iman Hilal, a photographer for the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, was covering the sit-in in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 14 August when Morsi supporters threatened him with a knife and forced him to hand over his camera’s memory card.
Self-appointed “popular committees” that protect their neighbourhoods from the Muslim Brotherhood have also been responsible for violence against journalists. Freelance journalists Jared Malsin and Cliff Cheney were accosted near Ramses Square on 16 August by members of one of these groups, who took equipment from them and slapped Malsin.
The interior ministry banned the “committees” the next day but this has not stopped them from carrying out acts of violence.
These attacks have been carried out with impunity and the authorities have usually proved powerless to stop them and to ensure the safety of journalists.
When a group smashed the camera of a crew working for German public TV broadcaster ARD and destroyed their recordings on 15 August, the crew turned to the police, but the only comment by the police – one that speaks volumes about the current situation – was: “For love of heaven, how could you come here with a camera?”
Ten media censored
Around ten media have been censored in the past two months and six have been raided.
One of the first measures taken by the new government on 3 July was to close four TV stations. They were Misr 25 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Freedom Party and three others that supported Morsi – Al-Hafiz , Al-Nas and Rahma. The police raided them on the official grounds of preventing them from broadcasting messages that incited hatred and violence. All four continue to be closed.
Three days later, Nilesat, the Egyptian telecommunications satellite operators, blocked three pan-Arab channels – Al-Quds, Al-Aqsa and Al-Yarmouk.
Members of the armed forces have also raided news media. Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian TV channel, Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, was the first. Soldiers raided it on 3 July, confiscating its equipment and blocking a live broadcast.
On 15 August, the Egyptian cabinet accused Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr of operating without a legal basis, inciting hatred and constituting a threat to national security. On 28 August, the ministry of investment, information and communications technology and media declared Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr to be illegal and banned it from operating in Egypt.