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2011-01-27

Guardian Journalist Arrested and Beaten Alongside Protesters in Egypt Secretly Records Ordeal

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In Egypt, running battles between police and anti-government protesters continued into the early hours of Thursday morning. Police have arrested up to 1,200 people, including a number of journalists. Among them was Guardian reporter, Jack Shenker. He was arrested and beaten by plainclothes police on Tuesday night and shoved into a truck with dozens of other people. He managed to keep his dictaphone with him and recorded what was happening as the truck carried them outside of Cairo. We play some of the dramatic audio and speak to him live by telephone. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, but we’re going now to Egypt, where running battles between police and anti-government protesters continued into the early hours of Thursday morning. Protesters defied a government ban on gatherings of any kind and a huge police presence to take to the streets for a second day in the largest demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak in three decades, since he took office.

On Wednesday, protesters faced tear gas, water cannon, beatings from the heavy police presence on the streets of Cairo. Witnesses said that live ammunition was also fired into the air. Up to 1,200 people were arrested, including a number of journalists. Six people have reportedly been killed since Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the country, about 1,000 people gathered outside the morgue in Suez to protest against the death of one of three protesters who died in clashes on Tuesday. Protesters threw petrol bombs at a government building, setting parts of it on fire.

The unprecedented popular demonstrations have been inspired by the recent uprising in Tunisia. Protesters have vowed to stay on the streets until the government falls. Organizers are promising to hold the biggest demonstrations yet on Friday after weekly prayers. They’ve been using social networking sites to call for fresh demonstrations, but both Facebook and Twitter have been periodically blocked inside Egypt.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency and Nobel Peace laureate, is expected to return to Egypt from Vienna today to join the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not criticize the Egyptian government, saying only the country was stable and Egyptians have the right to protest, while urging all parties to avoid violence.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: As we monitor this situation carefully, we call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence. We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites. We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Among the journalists who were detained in Egypt was Guardian reporter Jack Shenker. He was arrested and beaten by plainclothes police on Tuesday night and shoved into a truck with dozens of other people. He managed to keep his dictaphone with him and recorded what was happening as the truck carried them outside of Cairo. The dramatic audio was posted on the Guardian website. This is some of what he described.

JACK SHENKER: So, we’re in the back of a central security truck after being severely beaten and herded into a sort of holding pen in downtown Cairo and then transferred us onto the truck and a few more beatings. And we’re now being driven out to the desert. And the police have been incredibly violent with all of us in the truck. And we’re herded in here. There must between 30 and 40 people in a very confined space.

The truck is spinning around corners, throwing us side by side, and people are drenched in sweat and they’re falling all over. It’s completely pitch black in here. We just have the lights of the orange street lamps outside shining through the very thick grates, and they’re illuminating people with blood on their faces, bruises all over them. Some people are curled up in the corner praying. Others are desperately trying to use cell phones.

All of us, including me, had our cell phones removed, but some of them obviously had more than one, and that got missed by the police. But most of the phones aren’t working, and there’s a desperate struggle for the ones that are, for people to phone loved ones and tell them that they’re being taken away.

People are suggesting that there could be a number of outcomes, that they could be taking us away to torture and question us over the burning of a police truck, which is what was going on when I was grabbed by state security. I was just about 20 meters from it, and they stormed unexpectedly and took everybody around it. Or they may have had orders to release us, in which case the standard thing for the police to do is to take us right out dozens of miles into the desert, extort us all the money we’re worth, and then leave us by the side of the road with no phones, no money and several dozen miles outside of the city. So, we’re waiting to see what’s happening.

And despite the fact that we’ve all been arrested and beaten, there’s still a huge amount of excitement over what we’ve seen today in the protests in South Tahrir. So, we’ll see how this plays out.

People are banging on the — we’ve come to a stop, and people were banging again and again on the walls, protest. And the truck is now doing quick spurts forward and stopping to throw us all around. And people are saying now we will definitely get beaten. It’s all very confusing. And we still have several injured people in here losing blood.

People are banging and screaming to be let out. There is a young man who has completely collapsed. He seems to be — he seems to be struggling for breath. And it actually looks very serious. He’s looking desperately ill. He’s collapsed on the bench. People are around him trying to give him air. They’re taking off his shirt in an attempt to, I think, make sure that he can breathe OK. And meanwhile, people on the other side of this truck are screaming out the windows, saying, "We have an injured person, a dying person in here. We need help!" And yet, still, we’re still locked inside, and nothing is happening.

They’re screaming now, "A man is dying! A man is dying!" And the door has been forced open. And there was a surge forward to get out of the door, but now people are holding back so that the man who is suffering desperately from a diabetes coma can get through. But the police are at the door. They’re not letting people out. In fact, they’re beating people.

The door is open. People are being hauled out by police, beaten. Someone next to me is collapsing from the heat and beating. And meanwhile, the whole truck is being rocked and shaken. It’s completely disorientating and very confusing and quite a bit intimidating. The whole truck is swaying from side to side. People are screaming outside. It’s very unclear what the situation is.

And now, suddenly, suddenly the police seem to have fallen back, and we’re charging out of the truck. The man who has fallen into the diabetes coma has been carried out. And now we are all — we are all now following. There’s a push and a crush to go through this incredibly narrow one-man doorway. And now we are physically forcing our way out. We are physically forcing our way out. So we’ve burst out of the truck, past the police lines.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Guardian reporter Jack Shenker speaking on Tuesday night in Cairo. We go to break, and when we come back, he will join us on the phone from Egypt.

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