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2011-02-04

Eliminate the Witnesses: Committee to Protect Journalists Criticizes Mubarak’s Policy of Attacking and Silencing Journalists in Egypt

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The Mubarak regime’s violent crackdown has included deliberate targeting of journalists covering the protests across Egypt. News outlets including Al Jazeera, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, CNN, BBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Australian Broadcasting, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television have reported assaults, intimidation or arrests of their workers. We speak to Frank Smyth with the Committee to Protect Journalists, who reports there has been a record of 100 attacks on journalists, 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight cases of media equipment seized. “This is worst case of the most blatant violence against the press that I’ve seen in my 24 years or so reporting and my 10 years at CPJ,” Smyth says. “Clearly the Mubarak regime is responsible. They are implementing a policy to eliminate witnesses to what is occurring. It seems that the Mubarak regime is attempting to literally unplug Egypt from the world.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: The Mubarak regime’s violent crackdown has included the deliberate targeting of journalists covering the protests. News outlets including Al Jazeera, CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN, BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, Australian Broadcasting, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television have reported assaults, intimidation, arrests, car jacking. On Thursday, ABC News correspondent Brian Hartman said he and three colleagues were abducted while driving from Cairo’s airport. They were taken to a compound, each threatened with decapitation. Hartman says the group was let go only after a Lebanese camera operator working for ABC pleaded for mercy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Some journalists were arrested or had their equipment seized after they were spotted covering the protests from buildings above the turmoil in the streets. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the crackdown.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We condemn, in the strongest terms, attacks on reporters covering the ongoing situation in Egypt. This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press and is unacceptable under any circumstances. We also condemn, in the strongest terms, attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats.

AMY GOODMAN: The Committee to Protect Journalists has been carefully monitoring the crackdown on journalists.

Frank, we only have three minutes. Frank Smyth is with us, the Committee to Protect Journalists Washington representative and journalist safety coordinator, who knows violence himself against journalists, was captured when he was in Iraq.

Frank, are you there? Frank Smyth, are you there?

FRANK SMYTH: Yes, I’m here. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Frank. Can you talk very quickly about what has happened to the journalists? You are citing the largest numbers of journalists attacked, assaulted, detained.

FRANK SMYTH: Yeah, very briefly, we’ve seen more than a hundred cases of attacks on journalists, at least 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight instances of equipment being seized. We’ve scene ruling party figures, plainclothes officers and uniformed police going into hotels and detaining journalists under the pretext of protecting them. We’ve seen plainclothes agents, as well as others, working, it seems, at the behest of the Mubarak regime, attacking journalists in the streets.

We’ve seen — and not only that, this is the worst case of the most blatant violence against the press that I’ve seen in my 24 years or so reporting and my 10 years at CPJ. I mean, this is somewhat reminiscent of what we saw in El Salvador back in the early 1980s. But this is even more blatant and more widespread. Beside the journalists that you’ve mentioned, journalists from Romania have been attacked, Polish journalists have been attacked, journalists from Al Jazeera as well as Al Arabiya have been attacked.

And government officials, as you indicated, have also made insinuations, including having a woman, who had her face blocked out on screen, alleging that journalists were acting as Israeli spies and that they had been trained in Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. And, of course, that’s taking a level of conspiracy theory to a whole new level.

So it seems that the Mubarak regime is attempting to literally unplug Egypt from the world, by having shut down the internet previously and cell phone towers, and is now trying to unplug the world from being able to watch and listen and hear what’s happening in the streets of Cairo and other cities. I don’t think it’s going to work, but it’s certainly the most widespread and blatant attacks against the press that I’ve seen in my career, and I think CPJ has witnessed.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about a group of journalists who apparently have just been released in the last hours?

FRANK SMYTH: That, I haven’t heard about. I’ve been checking the wires; I haven’t seen anything on that. And CPJ in New York is still looking into matters, so I haven’t heard anything about that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the Mubarak regime’s responsibility?

FRANK SMYTH: Clearly the Mubarak regime is responsible. They are implementing a policy to eliminate witnesses to what is occurring. There is no doubt that government authorities are behind these attacks that have taken place in a number of different areas, involving both uniformed agents as well as plainclothes agents, in addition to people that seem to be working at the behest of the government. We’ve also heard reports of government employees, people working in various government entities, who are being told, "If you want to keep your job, you have to go out in the street and attack not only anti-Mubarak protesters but also journalists." So there is no doubt in our mind, in our minds, that the regime is culpable for this violence against the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Frank Smyth, we want to thank you very much for being with us. He is the Washington representative and journalist safety coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go into Tahrir Square with Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Stay with us.

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