CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian military started rounding up journalists, possibly for their own protection, on Thursday after they came under attack from supporters of President Hosni Mubarak who have been assaulting anti-government protesters.
The U.S. State Department condemned what it called a “concerted campaign to intimidate” foreign journalists in Egypt. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that violence against journalists was part of a series of deliberate attacks and called on the Egyptian military to provide protection for reporters.
Foreign photographers reported a string of attacks on them by Mubarak supporters on Thursday near Tahrir Square, the scene of battles between supporters of Mubarak and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power.
One Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver. 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.
An Associated Press reporter saw eight foreign journalists detained by the military near the prime minister’s office, not far from Tahrir Square
The Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Arabiya pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
The attacks appeared to reflect a pro-government view that many media outlets are sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term.
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.”
The Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said on a news scroll that two of its correspondents had been attacked by “thugs.” It didn’t say when the attack took place, or how badly they were hurt.
Egyptian authorities had shut Al-Jazeera’s office on Sunday, complaining its round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest.
The station denounced that closure as an attempt to muzzle open reporting.
ABC News international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that on Wednesday her car was surrounded by men banging on the sides and windows, and a rock was thrown through the windshield, shattering glass on the occupants. They escaped without injury.
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. 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.
Fox Business Channel’s Ashley Webster reported that security officials burst into a room where he and a camera operator were observing the demonstration from a balcony. They forced the camera inside the room. He called the situation “very unnerving” and said via Twitter that he was trying to lay low.
CBS newsman Mark Strassman said he and a camera operator were attacked as they attempted to get close to the rock-throwing and take pictures. The camera operator, who he would not name, was punched repeatedly and hit in the face with Mace.
“As soon as one started, it was like blood in the water,” he said. The two men were caught up in a crowd they soon learned were anti-Mubarak demonstrators who were trying to whisk them to safety. The demonstrators told them to get away for safety’s sake, and they complied.
Strassman said that he and his colleague were vulnerable because they were clearly identifiable as Westerners. Al-Jazeera escaped trouble on Wednesday.
Al-Jazeera kept its camera crews away from the square and instead relied on reporters of Arab descent who had flip cameras and tried to do their work by blending in with the crowd, said Al Anstey, the network’s managing director.
“It’s a very, very challenging situation,” Anstey said. “But it’s history in the making.”
There were reported assaults Wednesday on journalists for the BBC, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
The website of Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper said Belgian reporter Serge Dumont, whose real name is Maurice Sarfatti, was beaten Wednesday while covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration and taken away by unidentified people dressed as civilians. The paper said Sarfatti had been able to call the paper to tell them he had been taken to a military post.
“They are saying I’m going to be taken to see security services. They accuse me of being a spy,” the paper’s website quoted him as saying.
A reporter for Turkey’s Fox TV, his Egyptian cameraman and their driver were abducted by men with knives while filming protests Wednesday, but Egyptian police later rescued them, said Anatolia, a Turkish news agency.
There was no information on why the crew was held or circumstances surrounding their release.
A correspondent and a cameraman working for Russia’s Zvezda television channel were detained by men in plainclothes and held overnight Tuesday, Anastasiya Popova of Vesti state television and radio said on air from Cairo.
“All of their equipment, cameras and all cassettes, were taken from them, they were taken to a house and blindfolded,” Popova said. They were questioned, she said, “but today they took them to the outskirts of town and let them go without any explanation.”
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.