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Updated: February 5, 2011 14:46 IST

Europeans urge Egypt to protect journalists

AP
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A boy is seen among people praying in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, on Friday. Photo: AP.
A boy is seen among people praying in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, on Friday. Photo: AP.

The Qatar—based satellite station - widely watched in the Middle East - portrayed Friday’s attack as an attempt by Egypt’s regime or its supporters to hinder Al—Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising in Egypt. It said the office was burned along with the equipment inside it.

The U.N.’s top human rights official and a chorus of European nations on Friday condemned attacks on reporters covering pro—democracy demonstrations in Egypt, while TV station Al—Jazeera announced its offices had been stormed and burned and its Web site hacked.

The Qatar—based satellite station - widely watched in the Middle East - portrayed Friday’s attack as an attempt by Egypt’s regime or its supporters to hinder Al—Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising in Egypt. It said the office was burned along with the equipment inside it.

Last week, Egyptian authorities closed Al—Jazeera’s Cairo office, revoked the credentials of Al—Jazeera reporters and detained several of them for various periods.

Al—Jazeera also said a banner advertisement on its Arabic—language site was taken down for more than two hours early Friday and replaced with a slogan reading “Together for the collapse of Egypt” which linked to a page criticizing the network.

“Our website has been under relentless attack since the onset of the uprisings in Egypt,” a statement from Al—Jazeera said. “While the deliberate attacks this morning were an attempt to discredit us, we will continue our impartial and comprehensive coverage of these unprecedented events.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York—based media watchdog, said on Thursday that it had recorded 24 detentions of journalists, 21 assaults and five cases in which equipment was taken away over a 24—hour period. Among those detained have been correspondents for The New York Times and Washington Post.

Foreign photographers reported attacks by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the focal point of increasingly violent mass demonstrations demanding the Egyptian leader step down after 30 years in power.

In Geneva, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called the detentions of journalists “clearly a blatant attempt to stifle news.”

She said “one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt’s security and intelligence services” and called for an end to violence and an investigation into whether it was planned.

Germany summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Berlin, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, to the Foreign Ministry to protest his government’s “unacceptable” use of violence against peaceful demonstrators and journalists, the ministry said.

A Swedish TV reporter covering the protests was in serious condition at a Cairo hospital after being stabbed in the back on Thursday.

Speaking a day after the attack on reporter Bert Sundstrom of public broadcaster SVT, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt urged the Egyptian authorities to “respect the journalists.”

Reporters are “the eyes and the ears of the world at the moment,” Mr. Reinfeldt said at a European Union summit in Brussels.

The exact circumstances of the assault on Sundstrom remain unclear. He disappeared from near his hotel on Thursday afternoon, SVT said. When an editor called Mr. Sundstrom’s cell phone, a man answered in Arabic, saying the reporter was in the hands of the Egyptian government, the broadcaster said.

Mr. Sundstrom also sustained head injuries in the attack and was in serious but stable condition on Friday following surgery, SVT said.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said she was “appalled” by reports about repeated attacks against international journalists.

“There must be a clear signal to the Egyptian authorities that they are responsible that the situation does not turn into anarchy, chaos and violence,” she said on Friday. “We have seen a pattern in the past week’s dramatic developments in Egypt where freedom of expression has been deliberately suppressed. We can in no way accept this.”

Denmark’s TV2 channel on Thursday aired footage of an attack on veteran reporter Rasmus Tantholdt and his cameraman, Anders Brandt. The two were on their way to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria when they were stopped at a checkpoint and then chased by an angry mob of some 60 to 70 people wielding clubs. They sought shelter in a shop and are now safe in an Alexandria hotel, the station said.

Both Sweden and Denmark have beefed up the travel advisories for Egypt, advising their citizens against all travel to the country. Previously, both had urged their citizens to avoid nonessential travel.

In a statement, French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot—Marie condemned “the unacceptable incidents that have compromised the security” of journalists from French media outlets, including TF1, France 2, BFM and France 24 television channels and Le Monde newspaper.

Some media outlets have declined to discuss incidents involving their staff out of fears for their safety, but late Thursday, France 24 issued a statement saying that three of its journalists who had been held for 24 hours had again been picked up by Egyptian military police, only hours after their release.

On its nightly newscast on Thursday, France’s leading broadcaster, TF1, said two of its reporters were being held for questioning.

Even Russia - often rated as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists - spoke out against the attacks.

In a statement on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said “We consider the oppression of mass media representatives working within the law to be unacceptable.”

On Thursday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denounced the “systematic targeting” of reporters covering the protests.

Two Fox News Channel journalists were severely beaten by a mob near Tahrir Square on Wednesday. Correspondent Greg Palkot and cameraman Olaf Wiig had retreated to a building, but someone threw a firebomb inside and the men were attacked as they rushed out, said Michael Clemente, Fox’s senior vice president for news.

The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini said its correspondent in Cairo was briefly hospitalized with a stab wound to the leg after being attacked by pro—Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square. A Greek newspaper photographer was punched in the face.

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