White House Condemns 'Systematic Targeting' of Journalists in Egypt

The White House is calling on the Egyptian government to immediately release any journalists who have been detained in the course of covering the country's political unrest, saying the "systematic targeting" of reporters is "totally unacceptable."

The Obama administration strongly condemned the behavior of pro-government supporters, after a number of international journalists -- including Fox Business Network's Ashley Webster, and Fox News' Greg Palkot and Olaf Wiig -- were attacked, intimidated and in some cases jailed in Cairo. As pro- and anti-government demonstrators continue to clash, those covering the historic events have apparently become a target as well. The Obama administration claimed the acts were part of a concerted campaign.

"This also is completely and totally unacceptable," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said aboard Air Force One Thursday. "Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately. We need to be clear that the world is watching the actions that are being taken right now in Egypt."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called on the country's government and army to provide protection. "Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are pillars of an open and inclusive society. It is especially in times of crisis that governments must demonstrate their adherence to these universal values," she said.

Earlier, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley condemned the intimidation.

"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting," Crowley tweeted.

Both Palkot and Wiig were hospitalized overnight after running into a crowd of pro-government demonstrators. The two were severely beaten but have since been released from the hospital.

That was after Palkot, covering the growing violence at Tahrir Square, was confronted by several pro- and anti-government protesters. In the middle of the chaos, Palkot said that 30 rioters, with the help of an Egyptian military officer, fended off a large crowd of people and allowed Palkot and his cameraman to slip down a back alley and into a small hotel.

Webster told Fox News that security burst into his hotel room and forced the cameraman off the balcony, shouting that they will kill them.

"This crowd has been very angry toward journalists," he told Fox News.

The Egyptian government has accused media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term as he has pledged.

The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo was hospitalized with a stab wound to the leg after being attacked by pro-Mubarak demonstrators in central Tahrir Square. He has been released. A Greek newspaper photographer was also beaten.

The injured Greek journalist, Petros Papaconstantinou, said on Kathimerini's website that: "I was spotted by Mubarak supporters. They ... beat me with batons on the head and stabbed me lightly in the leg. Some soldiers intervened, but Mubarak's supporters took everything I had on me in front of the soldiers."

Washington Post Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl said on the paper's website that multiple witnesses had reported that Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel and photographer Linda Davidson were among two dozen journalists arrested by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

The New York Times said two reporters working for the paper were released on Thursday after being detained overnight in Cairo.

The Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said in an e-mail that three of its journalists were detained by security forces and another was reported missing. Egyptian authorities have complained the network's round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest.

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement Thursday condemning the actions of pro-Mubarak supporters.

"This has gone beyond censorship. This is now about ridding Cairo of all journalists working for foreign news media," the group said.

The leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a joint statement that the "attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable."

Turkey's state broadcaster TRT, said its Egypt correspondent, Metin Turan, was beaten by a group of around 15 pro-Mubarak demonstrators with batons and lost a tooth in the attack. His camera, money and cell phone were stolen.

Three other Turkish journalists were also stopped and roughed up near Tahrir square, TRT said.
Polish state television TVP said that two of its crews were detained in Cairo. One was released after one of its camera's was smashed, it said.

Government spokesman Magdy Rady said Wednesday that the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was a "fiction," and that the government welcomed objective coverage.

"It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need your help," Rady said in an interview with The Associated Press. However, he said some media were not impartial and were "taking sides against Egypt."

CNN's Anderson Cooper and two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up in the crowd.

Cooper says he and his crew were attacked by supporters of Mubarak on Wednesday. CNN later said no one was seriously hurt.

Two Associated Press correspondents and several other journalists were roughed up during gatherings of Mubarak supporters. European papers reported that a Belgian journalist was also beaten, detained and accused of spying by unidentified people in civilian clothes.

Reporter Jean-Francois Lepine of Canada's CBC all-French RDI network said that he and a cameraman were surrounded by a mob that began hitting them, until they were rescued by the Egyptian army.

"Without them, we probably would have been beaten to death," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.