Over the last two days, Hosni Mubarak has made Cairo the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. After Mubarak’s new prime minister issued an “apology” for the lethal violence waged by pro-Mubarak gangs on Wednesday and into Thursday’s pre-dawn hours, the government appeared to be engaged in an even more intense campaign of violent assaults on unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators and journalists.
Throughout the day Thursday, forces loyal to Pres. Hosni Mubarak —acting in lock-step with statements by both Mubarak and his new vice president that reporters and democracy activists are “foreign agents” and enemies of Egypt— escalated attacks against journalists and protesters, beating, stabbing, kidnapping and persecuting them in an apparent attempt to “eliminate witnesses” to whatever is about to follow.
Mubarak and his government have seized public media and are using television and radio to issue fabrications and propaganda alleging “foreign agents” are instigating the protests and trying to destabilize Egypt and subject Egyptians to violence, scarcity and chaos. There are reports the government is using Internet media to spread lies and calling on Egyptians to target foreign journalists and dissidents and to treat Friday’s protests as a dangerous even staged by foreign spies.
Mubarak’s campaign against the media appears designed to “clear the battlefield” of any obstruction to an extreme and bloody totalitarian massacre of his opponents. Seasoned war correspondents, including journalists who have studied or reported on violent extremist groups across the region, say they have never seen such a pervasive and coordinated campaign to assault journalists.
Journalists from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United States, Bahrain, Qatar, Russia, France, and elsewhere have been targeted for attack and/or kidnapped and held unlawfully or interrogated by paid gangs or by agents of the Mubarak regime. Major global news networks have been so consistently and gravely threatened with brute force they even took down live feeds showing Tahrir Square at a distance Thursday.
Cairo has degenerated from a city gripped by peaceful protests to a place where an exhausted and morally bankrupt totalitarian regime is now waging a lascivious assault on humanity itself. Mubarak’s character as leader appears to be the driving force in what is a mounting tragedy, and it is the character of a man who reacts to an historic opportunity for his nation to be transformed for the better by first ceding partially, appointing a reputed torture chief to be his vice president, then sending snipers and thugs to spill the blood of his people.
Since the beginning of the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations, Mubarak’s paramilitary forces may have killed more than 300 of their fellow Egyptians. Death counts for last week’s nationwide rash of violence range from 100 to 300, while the death count for Wednesday and Thursday is currently estimated between 8 and 13. There are fears that many people have yet to be heard from and may be suffering from untreated wounds, or worse.
Now Hosni Mubarak is using state radio and TV to incite violence against “foreigners” and dissidents, using the strategy Slobodan Milosevic used to foment genocide in Yugoslavia and the leaders of the Rwandan genocide employed to seduce their followers into murdering family, friends and neighbors. Mubarak has flagrantly sought to turn all of Egypt into a country overrun by a violent, visceral fear of foreigners, of the press or of human rights activists.
In the last two days, Mubarak’s regime has organized and carried out a comprehensive undercover war against the press, with agents provocateurs —many reported to have been carrying government ID— not only surrounding and intimidating, but attacking with deadly weapons, members of the press from across the world.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has published this summary of assaults:
- The Washington Post told CPJ that the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, and Linda Davidson, a photographer, were among a number of journalists detained this morning. Their unidentified driver and translator were also picked up, and the driver was beaten. Fadel and Davidson were freed late today, but the status of the driver and translator was unclear.
- Corban Costa of Brazilian Radio Nacional and cameraman Gilvan Rocha of TV Brasil were detained, blindfolded, and had their passports and equipment seized, according to Brazilian news accounts. The two were reportedly held overnight without water in a windowless room in a Cairo police station. An officer forced the reporters to sign a statement in Arabic saying they would immediately leave Egypt for Brazil, reports said. “We had to trust what he said, and sign the document, “ Corban said. They said they will be sent back to Brazil on Friday.
- Polish state television TVP said that five journalists working in two crews–Krzysztof Ko?osionek and Piotr Bugalski; and Micha? Jankowski, Piotr Górecki, and Pawe? Rolak–were detained in Cairo and that one of their cameras was smashed. Krzysztof Ko?osionek and Piotr Bugalski were released, according to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
- The New York Times reported today that two of its reporters were released after they were detained overnight in Cairo.
- Canadian Globe and Mail journalist Sonia Verma tweeted today that she was being taken “into some kind of custody.” She later reported that she was held by the military for three hours.
- CNN-IBN reported that video journalist Rajesh Bharadwajm was “taken away” from Tahrir Square by military forces. Bharadwajm’s status was not immediately clear.
- Maurice Sarfatti, who writes under the name Serge Dumont, was arrested twice within the past day, according to a statement from the daily Le Soir. The Belgian journalist, who was freed late today, works for a number of European publications.
- A German freelance journalist was briefly detained between Alexandria and Cairo, Frank-Dieter Freiling, a senior vice president of ZDF-German Television, told CPJ in an e-mail.
- Three Romanian TV crews were detained Wednesday and Thursday in Cairo, according to Antena 3 producer Vlad Petreanu, who e-mailed CPJ with details. On Wednesday, Adelin Petrisor, a reporter for the state-owned broadcaster TVR, and an unnamed cameraman were detained by Cairo police, searched, and later released. On Thursday, police detained Realitatea TV reporter Cristian Zarescu and his unidentified cameraman. Authorities confiscated their tapes before releasing them. Also on Thursday, Antena 3 reporter Carmen Avram and cameraman Cristian Tamas, were stopped by police. The men sent a text message late today saying they were being held for questioning.
- Mubarak supporters stormed Cairo’s Hilton Hotel searching for journalists, Al-Jazeera reported today. Journalists inside the hotel posted a Tumblr entry that said: “About 20 foreign journalists are currently holed up.” No injuries were immediately reported, but the journalists’ status was unclear.
- Rachel Beth Anderson, a freelance videographer in Cairo, tweeted that “cameras & phones disappearing from journo hotel rooms in the Semiramis hotel! We’re locked inside by staff who says its orders from outside.”
- Fox News reported that correspondent Greg Palkot and producer Olaf Wiig were hospitalized after being beaten by protesters in Cairo.
- The Swedish public broadcaster SVT reported that its correspondent in Egypt, Bert Sundström, is recovering from stab wounds to the stomach in a Cairo hospital. STV said it lost touch with Sundström as he was reporting in Tahrir Square and when they finally reached him on his cell phone, a man answered and told the station that he had been “taken by the military.” STV’s Ingrid Thörnqvist told the online Aftonbladet: “He is seriously injured, but the condition is stable.”
- The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo, Petros Papaconstantino, was “briefly hospitalized with a stab wound to the leg” after an attack by Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square, according to The Associated Press. The reporter wrote on Kathimerini‘s site: “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.” AP also reported that an unidentified Greek newspaper photographer was punched in the face.
- The Associated Press reported that CBS reporter Mark Strassman and a camera operator were attacked while trying to photograph people throwing rocks. Strassman told AP that demonstrators punched and sprayed with Mace his camera operator, whom he did not identify. “As soon as one started, it was like blood in the water,” he said.
- Dima Salem, a reporter for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, was attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters who took her cameraman’s equipment and tried to beat her, the station said. Witnesses helped them escape, Al-Arabiya reported on the air.
- Two Al-Jazeera English journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters, the Qatar-based satellite station reported on the air. Three other network reporters were detained in Cairo, the station reported. No names were given.
- Alfred Yaghobzadeh, a French photographer working for SIPA Press agency, was beaten while covering street protests, according to AP, which moved a photo of the journalist being aided by witnesses.
- The AP reported that men wielding sticks disrupted operations and seized satellite equipment at one its locations.
- A BBC producer tweeted that Margaret Evans, a CBC reporter, was forced to hand over recording equipment to military forces in Tahrir Square.
- Margaret Warner, a senior correspondent for the U.S.-based “PBS Newshour,” had her camera confiscated. Warner tweeted today: “PBS NewsHour arrives Cairo. Camera gear inspected & confiscated. 2 hours & we’re still haggling.”
- At least four Spanish journalists were attacked in Cairo, according to news reports. Joan Roura, a correspondent for TV3, a Catalan public television station, was attacked by men who tried to steal his mobile phone while he was conducting a live broadcast for the 24 hours news channel. Assaults were also reported against Sal Emergui, a correspondent for Catalan radio RAC1; Gemma Saura, a correspondent for the newspaper La Vanguardia; and Mikel Ayestaran, a correspondent for the newspaper Vocento/ABC.
- Several Turkish journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters, according to news reports. Cumali Önal of Cihan News Agency and Do?an Ertu?rul of the Turkish Star Dailywere attacked and beaten by pro-Mubarak supporters on Wednesday. Both were in stable condition today.
- Men with knives seized Erol Candabako?lu, a Turkish Fox TV reporter, along with his unidentified cameraman and driver on Wednesday while they were filming in the Boulaq neighborhood of Cairo, according to news reports. The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported that Egyptian police later freed them.
- Metin Turan, a reporter for the Turkish state-run TRT channel, was assaulted today and beaten by Mubarak supporters, who seized his camera, money, and cell phone,according to the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman. The reporter escaped and sought refuge at the Turkish Embassy; embassy officials told the paper they would take Turan to the hospital because he suffered from wounds and bruises. Isa Simsek, a photographer for Today’s Zaman, was also assaulted today by a Mubarak supporter, according to news reports.
- Popular Egyptian blogger Mahmoud (aka “Sandmonkey”) tweeted: ”I was ambushed & beaten by the police, my phone confiscated, my car ripped apar& supplies taken.” He said he was briefly detained.
- Wally Nell, a photographer for the California-based Zuma Press agency, was wounded under the 6th October Bridge at the Corniche on the Nile in downtown Cairo, according to accounts posted by family and friends. Those accounts described Zell as having suffered multiple pellet wounds after being fired upon by police.
- At least four contributors to Demotix, a U.K.-based citizen journalism website and photo agency, were also attacked, Turi Munthe, Demotix CEO, told CPJ in an e-mail. The four included Nour El Refai and Mohamed Elmaymony.
- The British-based communications company Vodafone accused the Egyptian government of hijacking its text messaging services and sending out text messages supportive of Mubarak, according to news reports.
- Multiple journalists for state-owned or government-aligned media have resigned or have refused to work after the government put pressure on them to sanitize the news or to not report on violence against demonstrators, several CPJ sources said. Shahira Amin, an anchor on the state-owned Nile TV channel, said on the air: “I refuse to be a hypocrite. I feel liberated.”
A senior Egyptian judge has called for the indictment of of Hosni Mubarak for crimes against humanity, saying what occurred at Tahrir Square on Wednesday and Thursday was clearly “a massacre” and must be described as such. The International Criminal Court could begin proceedings against the dictator immediately, given the wide array of evidence mounting against him.
The US Department of State has obtained information that the Egyptian Interior Ministry was responsible for ordering the mass detention of journalists. That information may ultimately tip the balance of power in Egypt, as those under Mubarak and in charge of the military see the long-time ruler’s position is untenable.
There are reports that foreigners, including unarmed students seeking to escape the violence and make their way to the airport, may also have been targeted for attack. Foreign governments now have to consider not only whether Egyptians are in jeopardy, but whether their own people are coming under violent assault by agents of the regime.
The governments of the United States and the European Union are reportedly meeting to discuss policies for diplomatic intervention to help speed the process of democratic transition, and there are calls for the Arab League to intervene, to show a united front and in the interests of the Egyptian people and the region, demand the removal of Pres. Hosni Mubarak from power.
There are reports today that Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, has gone to Tahrir Square to join the hundreds of thousands massing there for the “day of departure” rally, in which pro-democracy demonstrators, reportedly including a Catholic cardinal and a top Muslim cleric, who were seen holding hands and calling for national unity.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who was attacked by gangs of pro-Mubarak forces for the second consecutive day, on Thursday, was forced to broadcast from “an undisclosed location”, describing himself as “scared” about what might be about to happen and saying ordinary Egyptians were becoming afraid of what the government might do. He described the day as “the second day of all-out attacks” against pro-democracy and human rights activists and foreign and domestic journalists.
Field reports found doctors were treating many of the demonstrators for gunshot wounds, the shots having been fired by snipers and pro-Mubarak gangs.
Footage was shown in which a police van clearly speeds its way through a crowd of pedestrians, mowing down several and not stopping.
The degeneration of civil society in Egypt is absolutely owing to the failings and moral perversions of an illegitimate regime and of its leader Hosni Mubarak, a man the whole world now sees has been thoroughly corrupted by 30 years of unaccountable rule and arbitrary exercise of power.
A prominent Egyptian scholar, Fouad Ajami, told CNN on Thursday that “last night we entered the dark period” in which “we saw really naked the cruelty of the regime”. He said Mubarak’s cruelty and violence turned the peaceful protests into “a fight for the country”. Where Egyptians were using peaceful means to call for a change in the country’s form of government, the government is using machetes, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire, to kill Egyptians in the streets.
The International Criminal Court should begin collecting evidence from every possible witness as to the nature of Mubarak’s exercise of power, not only during the last ten days, but throughout his period of uninterrupted “emergency” rule. The United Nations should immediately begin drafting a new treaty declaring any prolonged period of “emergency rule” a crime against humanity and resolving to investigate abuses committed under all such regimes.
It is fundamentally unfair to the victims of such brutality that the world wait until millions of souls are steeled with the uncommon courage required to go into the streets and face down a potential onslaught from hired mercenaries and secret police. To overthrow a dictator, and avoid the defeat of a Tianenmen Square, Egypt’s people are trying to get not one, but literally millions of brave citizens to stare down the symbol of state-sponsored violence.
In 1989, in Beijing, it was one man against a column of tanks. In 2011, in Cairo, it is hundreds of thousands of brave souls against gangs of paramilitaries hired to intimidate, to injure and to kill, in order to defend a dictator. Indeed, while the 2nd of February was the day Mubarak sent his forces into Tahrir Square to spill Egyptian blood, the 4th should be the day the people’s interim government is installed, and Hosni Mubarak exiled forever to face criminal charges.