Egypt bloggers and journalists face assault

Targeting of activists and mediapersons goes hand in hand with the security crackdown on protesters.

Maged Butter and Mona Eltahawy
In the course of her arrest, security forces broke columnist Mona Eltahawy’s left arm and right hand [Photo: Twitter]

The last tweets from Egyptian columnist and activist Mona Eltahawy in the early hours of November 24 paint a scene of escalating chaos.

First, shortly after midnight, Eltahawy, positioned across the street from the American University in Cairo – less than a five minute walk from Tahrir Square – described the confusion in the area [sic]:

Can’t believe it. A cacaphony sirens, horns, flashing ambulance lights.

Then, shortly thereafter, she continued the narrative she’d been weaving via tweets on her Android phone:

Pitch black, only flashing ambulance lights and air thick with gas

 But then, Eltahawy went silent for three hours or so. And then, a final tweet, via a phone that was not her own,

Beaten arrested in interior ministry

She sent out a tweet around eight hours later announcing that she had been freed and posted a photo her injured right hand. She also almost immediately started issuing a rapid-fire, blistering series of tweets which detailed how she was groped, blindfolded and “subjected to the worse sexual assault ever”.

Magdy Abdel Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, said that the current crackdowns on journalists, bloggers and even doctors who are treating injuries at Tahrir Square are consequences of “living in the second round of the revolution”.

“The military council are fighting against Egyptian people … they want to send a message for Egyptian people, that we are returning stronger, more tough than in the past,” Abdel Hamid said.

“But on the other side, the Egyptian people answered them – we have more courage and we are ready to stand against you. We will not go back.”

A spokesman for the interior ministry could not be reached for a response.

Multiple arrests

Eltahawy’s detention – which almost immediately got the #freemona tag on Twitter – has served to further anger activists who want the ruling military council to relinquish power.

After all, she is only one on a long list of bloggers, activists and journalists to be detained in the latest round of protests in Egypt.

Blogger Maged Butter, after his release from jail [Photo: Twitter]

Jehane Noujaim, a journalist and filmmaker, called a colleague to say she had been arrested for filming protests in Tahrir Square on Tuesday, while Maher Iskandar, a photographer for the Youm7 newspaper, was shot in leg while documenting clashes in Cairo that started on November 18.

Since then at least 38 protester have been killed and over 3,000 have been injured.

Maged Butter, a blogger who was with Eltahawy on the night she was detained, was also arrested. He has not posted any updates on Twitter.

Photos of Butter, looking bloodied and battered, have been posted by fellow bloggers and activists. One photo shows him with a dazed expression and a gash on his skull, receiving medical help.

Butter was witness to the Maspero killings in October, when clashes between protesters and security forces turned violent, resulting in at least 26 deaths.

He wrote a testimony on a site dedicated to gathering witness reports of that night, describing how people in civilian garb were throwing stones at the protesters and beating them with sticks.

Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have been collecting information about the steady stream of assaults and arrests targeting journalists in Egypt – 10 at one go around Tahrir Square on Sunday, six more in Alexandria and more.

“People are taking tremendous risks,” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa programme co-ordinator for CPJ, said of the journalists and bloggers chronicling what is happening on the streets of Egyptian cities.

“The number of deaths of injuries over the past few days attests to that.”

Tactics unchanged

Concerned that the pattern of suppressing free speech will continue in Egypt, Abdel Dayem said the tactics employed by security forces cracking down on journalists have not changed since Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Even the targets remain the same. For example, blogger Alaa Abdelfatah, who was arrested in 2006 was arrested again in October and remains incarcerated.

Arresting and mistreating civilians is not an effective tactic, Abdel Dayem said, referring to the tactic of arresting and mistreating civilians and silencing them as a losing “cat and mouse game with one cat very big, very brutal, very heavy-handed cat and a million mice”.

Furthermore, as with Eltahawy, who started sharing her experience post-haste, and Abdelfattah, who actually managed to write a piece for publication while in prison, it is clear that when activists, bloggers and journalists survive, the first thing they do is document what they witnessed.

Indeed, said Abdel Dayem, journalists and citizens in general have not only been emboldened, they have succeeded in expanding the margin for free expression out of the authorities’ grip. And they are not going to give it up easily.

Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @Dparvaz

Source: Al Jazeera