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July 2, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Physical attacks on journalists, government interference in media


Reporters Without Borders condemns the many acts of violence against journalists during demonstrations on 30 June, the first anniversary of Mohamed Morsi’s installation as president, and urges the authorities to protect journalists and to rescind recent arbitrary measures that threaten the independence of both state and privately-owned media.

One journalist killed, more than ten physically attacked According to a public health ministry report released yesterday, 781 people were injured and 16 died during the demonstrations on 30 June alone. More than 10 journalists were attacked while covering the demonstrations and clashes between government opponents and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo and other regions. Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to carry out independent investigations into these acts of violence, so that those responsible do not go unpunished. The authorities must protect media personnel so that they are able to work safely and with complete freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that one journalist was killed and seven were wounded on 28, 29 and 30 June. The fatality was Salah El-Din Hassan, a reporter for Shaab Masr (Egyptian People), who was covering night protests in Port Said on 28 June when he was killed by a homemade bomb that an unidentified person threw at protesters. A young American student was stabbed to death while photographing demonstrations in Alexandria the day before, 28 June. The attacks on journalists began during the first demonstrations held during the days prior to the 30 June anniversary and are still continuing. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), an Egyptian NGO, reported that Mohamed Heeza, a journalist working for the Welad El Balad media foundation, was kidnapped during demonstrations on 27 June in Mansourah, a city 120 km northwest of Cairo, in which more than 200 were injured. After being held for about seven hours, tortured with electric shocks and questioned about his colleagues at Welad El Balad, which is critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, Heeza was finally left at a roadside in Mansourah. Doctors who examined him confirmed that electric shocks had been administered to various parts of his body. He said he was also robbed of personal effects. The Dutch embassy confirmed that a young Dutch woman was attacked on Tahrir Square in Cairo on 28 June. According to reports, she was photographing the demonstrations when she raped by five men. A group called Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment said there were at least 46 cases of sexual harassment during the demonstrations on 30 June in Tahrir Square. A group called Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment said there were at least 46 cases of sexual harassment during the 30 June demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Al-Watan photographer Omar Al-Zohairy had to be hospitalized after unidentified individuals attacked him near Tahrir Square on the evening of 30 June and stole his equipment. Muslim Brotherhood supporters armed with sticks and steel bars attacked a Cairo News Company crew while they were filming the protests from the top of a building on 30 June. Satellite transmission engineer Mohamed Zidan had a leg broken, cameraman Gad Alhak received several blows that needed hospital treatment and sound engineer Kareem Hanafy also sustained multiple injuries. Equipment worth $140,000 was 80 per cent destroyed, the company said.

Government interference The media have also been the target of government threats and interference in the past few days. “The threats uttered by President Morsi and the pressure exercised by the authorities violated freedom of information and the independence of both the state and privately-owned media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This encourages journalists to censor themselves.” Morsi delivered a virulent speech on 26 June, attacking the opposition and journalists and warning that those who insulted him would be tried by military courts. He also accused privately-owned media of trying to sully his image as president, inciting violence and being funded by supporters of the old Mubarak regime. His threats were quickly followed by action in the case of certain TV stations such as CBC, Dream and Al-Faraeen (The Pharaohs), a station that is particularly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood. Investment minister Yahya Hamid, who is responsible for issuing and withdrawing licences for privately-owned TV stations, arbitrarily ordered Al-Fa’aeen’s closure, accusing it of “insulting the police” and “inciting a coup d’état in the ranks of the army and police.” A warrant was also issued for the arrest of the station’s owner, Tewfiq Okacha, on a charge of “spreading false information.” Okacha was already given a jail sentence last October on a charge of criminal defamation under article 170 of the penal code. The next day, the minister ordered a shakeup in the composition of the board of governors of the Media Free Zone, a state entity that provides financial incentives, production facilities and satellite access to broadcast media. CBC, Dream and Al-Nahar were stripped of their representation on the board without any warning. CBC’s owner, the businessman Mohamed Al-Amin, was also banned from leaving the country after he and Dream owner Ahmed Bahgat were accused by Morsi of tax evasion in his address to the nation. CBC, in particular, had broadcast programmes critical of the government. The removal of CBC, Dream and Al-Nahar from the Media Free Zone board and Al-Amin’s international travel ban are all eminently political decisions that are indicative of a government determination to control the media and restrict freedom of information. This determination was particularly clear in Morsi’s 26 June speech. It was also clear from the memorandum that the investment minister sent to satellite TV stations on 28 June warning that they could be closed if the government thought their news coverage “incites violence,” “insults persons” or goes “against society’s values.” TV anchor Jamal Al-Shaer announced the same day that he was resigning from state-owned Egypt TV 2 because his “Talk to Egypt” programme had been cancelled. He blamed government meddling in the state-owned media and, in particular, information minister Salah Abdul-Maqsoud’s attempts to control programme content. Al-Shaer’s resignation came just days after Mohamed Hassan Al-Bana resigned as editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar in protest against interference by certain Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the newspaper’s editorial policies. Political meddling in the media was also condemned in a petition by state-owned TV employees, which accused presidential media representative Ahmed Abdel-Azziz of “interfering with editorial policy” and called for his resignation. On 21 June, Abdel-Azziz had asked the state TV stations to cover only pro-government demonstrations and ignore opposition ones. Read also : MOUNTING FREEDOM OF INFORMATION WORRIES AFTER ONE YEAR OF MORSI