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Journalists under attack in Egypt

January 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

With the official death toll continuing to rise and sources within the Muslim Brotherhood estimating that thousands of Egyptians were killed in the massacres at Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares on Wednesday, it would be a surprise if the number of dead and wounded journalists didn’t also rise. In the some of the bloodiest turmoil yet witnessed in Egypt since the removal of former President Morsi, the military and security forces unleashed their full force against unarmed civilians staging pro-legitimacy sit ins. Since the unfolding of the coup journalists have been on the front line, literally, in some cases, putting their lives on the line to report on the unrest. As governments and international bodies failed to acknowledge the enormity of events unfolding before our eyes, journalists and media organisations reported quickly and determinedly on the massacres. Even the Washington Post and the New York Times, normally reflective of the official White House line, strayed from type and reported the events for what they were, the brutal actions of a military coup-led regime.

In order to reveal what is going on, journalists have been forced to risk their lives. At the beginning of the coup in July, one cameraman filmed his own death as he pointed his camera at the sniper who subsequently shot him. Yesterday’s events have caused even greater concern for media organisations with at least four journalists reported to have been killed:

Mike Dean – a British cameraman for Sky News

Habeeba Abdelaziz – journalist for Dubai-based XPRESS newspaper

Ahmed Abdel Gawad – Egyptian journalist for Al-Akhbar newspaper

Mosab El-Shami Rassd – Egyptian photojournalist for RNN, an online alternative news agency

Echoes of Mubarak’s rule, which saw indiscriminate violence against journalists, worry all media organisations with staff on the ground in Egypt. Aside from the deaths, a number of journalists have been wounded, attacked, harassed and detained.

Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih, for example, suffered serious injuries after she was shot in the leg as the massacres began on Wednesday morning. An Associated Press photographer was shot in the back of the neck and an Al-Jazeera cameraman, Mohammed Zaki, was shot in the arm. Tarek Abbas of Al-Watan newspaper was shot in the leg and eye, and photographer Ahmed Najjar was wounded in the arm.

As well as the injuries sustained by journalists, a number of media professionals and organisations have also been targeted. Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Quds (a Beirut-based Palestinian TV station) reported that their signals were jammed at points during their coverage yesterday. Al-Jazeera journalists have been targeted repeatedly by the Egyptian authorities since the beginning of the coup and the station had to switch satellites in recent weeks to ensure continued service across Egypt. One of its journalists, Abdullah al Shamy, was detained on Wednesday and remains in custody. Mike Giglio, a reporter for the Daily Beast, reported that he had been arrested and beaten by security forces: “Was arrested, beaten by security forces at Rabaa and then held at a local arena. Just out now,” he tweeted. Britain’s Patrick Kingsley of the Guardian also reported having been detained by security forces, whilst a Washington Post reporter was threatened and told that “next time (she) would be shot in the leg”.

British journalist Tom Finn spoke to Huffington Post Live following his arrest, attack and subsequent release. He confirmed that he had had his cameras taken from him and his pictures deleted. He claimed that the situation was being made difficult for journalists to get access to the squares, despite their press passes, assessing this as a decision made to prevent journalists documenting the atrocities taking place. Though a state of emergency has now been imposed upon Egypt, journalists remain exempt from curfews. Tom Finn wondered if this would actually be the case in practice. Most worrying was Finn’s confirmation that snipers had been firing from the rooftops, suggesting that they would have a clear sight of who they are shooting at.

The Washington-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists said, “The Egyptian government must allow all journalists to work freely. They should also conduct an immediate investigation into who killed Mike Dean and hold those responsible to account.” It remains to be seen if the coup leaders heed the international condemnation and act accordingly.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.