British press under attack as Egypt 'mob rule' escalates

Several British journalists appeared fortunate to escape with their lives yesterday after being attacked by mobs in Egypt as riots and protests continued against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Attacks on reporters and news crews appear to increase yesterday following widespread propaganda claiming that journalists were seeking to destabilise Egypt.

Daily Mirror reporter Alun Palmer and photographer Ian Vogler were among those who were attacked.

Palmer writes in today’s paper: “It was ordinary Egyptians who were hitting me with fists, sticks and spitting menacingly in my face.”

He said that locals are reacting to state TV which has “pumped out propaganda about western journalists” and which claimed that Israeli secret service agents were posing as reporters.

The Mirror pair were in a Cairo suburb when a mob turned on them. Palmer said he was saved from serious injury when he was dragged into a police van and later released.

Times journalist James Hider and his wife, a reporter for American radio, were also attacked outside Cairo yesterday by what he described as a “lynch mob”.

In an audio report for The Times website he said: “There was hysteria on the streets as a result of state TV essentially telling people that Al Jazeera was broadcasting against the interests of the country”.

He described how people saw his wife’s microphone and, thinking she was a correspondent for Al Jazeera, started punching her in the face. And he said they only escaped serious injury after an army major from a nearby checkpoint came over.

Hider said: “He managed to calm things down. We were very relieved, he saved us from this mob.

“The army is rounding up journalists for their own protection. The only safe places for journalists are army checkpoints. Everywhere else is subject to mob rule.”

The New York-based Committee to protect journalists warned yesterday that embattled President Mubarak had “unleashed an unprecedented and systematic attack on international media” as his supporters “assaulted journalists in the streets while security forces began obstructing and detaining journalists covering the unrest that threatens to topple his government”.

Executive director Joel Simon said: “This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism.

“The systematic and sustained attacks documented by CPJ leave no doubt that a government-orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news is well under way.

“With this turn of events, Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world’s worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba.

“We hold President Mubarak personally responsible for this unprecedented action and call on the Egyptian government to reverse course immediately.”

Writing yesterday, the CPJ said in the previous 24 hours it had recorded the following incidents involving journalists: 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight instances of equipment having been seized.

Swedish journalist Bert Sunstrom was apparently held captive by unknown assailants yesterday and was later found seriously injured, according to reports, and is currently said to be receiving treatment in hospital

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders described an “all-out witch-hunt against news media that are covering events in Egypt” and added that it was “very concerned for all the journalists currently in Cairo”.

Jean-François Julliard, RWB secretary-general, said: “It seems that journalists are no longer safe anywhere in Cairo. Several news bureaux have also been attacked.

“The highest level of the Egyptian government must be held responsible for this policy of physical attacks.

“We urge the international community to adopt a strong unanimous position quickly, to draw the appropriate conclusions from the events of the past few days and to consider sanctions.”

Reporters Without Borders said it is aware of the following incidents involving journalists and news media in Egypt:

  • Journalists attacked: 26
  • Confiscated material: 4 cases
  • Media offices attacked: 1
  • Disappeared journalists: 3
  • Arrested/kidnaped: 19
  • 1 journalist in coma

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