Foreign journalists attacked in Egypt

Many foreign journalists covering the protests in Cairo were rounded up by the military and had their equipment confiscated — possibly for their own protection — after some were attacked in the clashes between anti- and pro-government protesters.
Mohammed Omar, an Egyptian photographer, seeks help for his head wound from a soldier during clashes between President Hosni Mubarak's supporters and anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo on Wednesday. ((Ahmed Ali/Associated Press) )

Many foreign journalists covering the protests in Cairo were rounded up by the military and had their equipment confiscated Thursday — possibly for their own protection — after some were attacked in the clashes between anti- and pro-government protesters.

Tensions were running high on the streets of the capital city on the 10th day of the political crisis.

Foreign journalists from several outlets reported a string of attacks on them near Tahrir Square, the scene of battles between supporters of embattled President Hosni Mubarak and protesters demanding he step down immediately after nearly 30 years in power.

CBC News has a team of reporters on the ground in Cairo. They include David Common, who described the situation via Skype on Thursday morning.

Radio-Canada cameraman Sylvain Castonguay was badly beaten by pro-government supporters near Cairo's airport on Wednesday. ((CBC))

"One of the reasons that I am speaking to you by Skype is that it's simply not safe for us to go out above this square. People are pointing us out and this comes on a day when it appears foreign journalists are being targeted," Common said in an interview from his hotel room.

In the square, gunfire could still be heard and Molotov cocktails were thrown late into the night Wednesday and in the early morning Thursday, sparking huge fires, he said.

Violent confrontations between the two sets of protesters continue, he added.

"We saw people being pulled out of vehicles, punched relentlessly. We saw what may have been a man killed, saw someone who was hit by a Molotov cocktail and catch on fire."

Radio-Canada reporter Jean-François Lépine and cameraman Sylvain Castonguay were roughed up by pro-government supporters near Cairo's airport Wednesday. Castonguay was badly beaten, and the attack only ended after soldiers intervened.

Globe and Mail reporter Sonia Verma said she and her colleague Patrick Martin were "taken into some sort of custody" Thursday morning after their passports were seized at a military checkpoint.

They were freed three hours later, Verma said on Twitter.

Reporters from across the globe attacked

Several reporters and photographers from other news outlets also reported being roughed up.

Among them:

  • Al-Jazeera said two correspondents had been attacked by "thugs."
  • 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.
  • There were reported assaults Wednesday on journalists for the BBC, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
  • 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, whom he would not name, was punched repeatedly and hit in the face with Mace.

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.

"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions," PJ Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said on Twitter.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered a strong denunciation of reports of "systematic targeting" of journalists in Egypt, saying those actions are "totally unacceptable."

"Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately," Gibbs said. "I think we need to be clear that the world is watching the actions that are taking place right now in Egypt."

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday the government is gravely concerned about the intimidation of Canadian journalists in Cairo and he is calling in Egypt's ambassador to Canada to protest their treatment.

"I have [also] asked our ambassador in Cairo to follow up on my call to the foreign minister and ensure that Canadians, particularly Canadian journalists, are guaranteed safety."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that violence against journalists was part of a series of deliberate attacks, and urged the Egyptian military to provide protection for reporters.

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

On Thursday, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the attack on anti-government protesters "seemed to have been organized." He promised an investigation into who was behind it.

With files from The Associated Press