A day after Mubarak loyalists assailed against pro-democracy protesters, Tahrir Square remains tense as crisis deepens.
|As the situation intensifies in Egypt, journalists are increasingly targeted [AFP]|
Journalists in Egypt – domestic and foreign – are increasingly under siege, with Egyptian authorities detaining reporters and gangs of young men roaming the streets looking for anyone with camera equipment.
Some of the pressure has come from the government: Six Al Jazeera journalists were detained for several hours earlier this week, and while they were eventually released, their equipment remains with the police.
Earlier on Thursday concerns were raised as another three reporters went missing. They have now returned, safe and well, to their hotel.
Two New York Times reporters were reportedly arrested – or “taken into protective custody”, as the government termed it.
‘Israeli spy’ rumours
Spotters stand outside many hotels, watching balconies with high-powered binoculars. When they see balconies with camera equipment or photographers, they use radios to call in the details.
Egyptian police sources say that information from those spotters has been used to conduct several raids on journalists’ hotel rooms in recent days.
And the government has reportedly pressured several hotels not to extend the reservations of foreign journalists.
But most of the intimidation and violence has come from unofficial sources: Young men loiter outside the hotels where many reporters are staying, shouting at (and sometimes attacking) anyone with equipment.
Hotel lobbies are filled with journalists and camera crews wearing bandages, and many have been restricted to watching the events in Tahrir Square from their hotel balconies.
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Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that “Israeli spies” have infiltrated the city – which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout “yehudi!” (“Jew!”).
The area around Tahrir Square has become a virtual no-go zone for camera crews, which were assaulted on Wednesday almost as soon as they entered the area controlled by supporters of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Several of them were mistaken for Al Jazeera crews, and were chased off by young men wielding sticks and chanting, “Jazeera! Jazeera!”.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said his crew was also assaulted on Tuesday night after being mistaken for an Al Jazeera crew.
A reporter for the Al Arabiya network was kidnapped for several hours during Wednesday’s protest.
The violence has come exclusively from the Mubarak supporters: There have been no reports of pro-democracy demonstrators attacking or intimidating the media.
Egyptian journalists, too, have been the victims of angry mobs, all of them affiliated with the pro-Mubarak crowd. Sarah El Sirgany, an editor with the Daily News Egypt, tweeted that her brother was assaulted while trying to protect a group of reporters attacked by an angry mob.
An Al Jazeera reporter was held at knifepoint by a group of young men on Thursday morning. One man’s face was still bloodied from the previous night’s fighting.
Bloggers, too, have become targets: The popular Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey has reportedly been arrested (it’s unclear by who).
The United States and Britain have condemned what they call the intimidation of foreign journalists reporting on events in Egypt.
Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman, called for the release of any journalist who had been detained in the country and said acts to intimidate the media were “completely and totally unacceptable”.
PJ Crowley, state department spokesman, added: “There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions.”
Britain’s foreign minister also said the intimidation and harassment of journalists was “unacceptable and disturbing”.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the attacks on journalists an attempt at “blanket censorship” by the government, and listed a number of reported assaults against Egyptian, Arabic and international media.