Journalists attacked by mobs, detained in Cairo
CAIRO – Foreign journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs on the streets Cairo on Thursday and dozens were reported detained by security forces in what the U.S. called a concerted attempt to intimidate the press.
Foreign photographers reported a string of attacks by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square, the scene of vicious battles between Mubarak supporters and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power. The Egyptian government has accused media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want 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.
"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
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.
"We understand that they are safe but in custody and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington," he said.
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.
Al-Jazeera also said its journalists' equipment had been stolen and destroyed during more than a week of unrest and it had faced what it called unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal across the Arab world.
The Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
The Toronto Globe and Mail said on its website that one of its reporters, Sonia Verma, said the military had "commandeered us and our car" in Cairo.
"It is believed that Globe reporter Patrick Martin was travelling with Ms. Verma, along with a driver," the site said.
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."
A Greek freelance photographer was punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment.
The leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a joint statement that the "attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable."
Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said that "AP journalists in Egypt have faced the same harassment and intimidation as other news organizations."
One Associated Press location was disrupted by men wielding sticks, and satellite equipment was taken.
"The situation was quickly defused," Colford said. "No one was injured."
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 said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera in central Cairo on Wednesday. Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled.
"This is incredibly fast-moving," Cooper said. "I've been in mobs before and I've been in riots, but I've never had it turn so quickly."
In Wednesday's fighting, security forces did not intervene as thousands of people hurled stones and firebombs at each other for hours in and around the capital's Tahrir Square.
There were reported assaults that day on journalists for CBS, the BBC, Danish TV2 News, Swiss television and Belgium's Le Soir newspaper, among other organizations. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
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.