Writer and producer for Al Jazeera English in Washington, D.C. She has just returned from assignment in Cairo.
The only journalist known to have been killed during the Egyptian uprising was honored Monday in Cairo. Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud was a reporter for the state-owned newspaper Al Ta’awun. He was shot on January 28 when he tried to use his phone to film riot police as they fired tear gas canisters at protesters. He spent a week in the hospital before he died on February 4. On Monday, journalists, family and friends held a symbolic funeral in Cairo, marching from the Journalists’ Syndicate to Tahrir Square holding an empty coffin. We speak to Al Jazeera English producer and writer Laila Al-Arian, who has just returned from Cairo, where she interviewed Mahmoud’s widow. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The only journalist known to have been killed during the Egyptian uprising was honored Monday in Cairo. Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud was a reporter for the state-owned newspaper Al-Ta’awun. He was shot on Friday, January 28th, when he tried to use his phone to film riot police as they fired tear gas canisters at protesters. He spent a week in the hospital before he died Friday. On Monday, journalists, family and friends held a symbolic funeral in Cairo, marching from the Journalists’ Syndicate to Tahrir Square holding an empty coffin.
Al Jazeera English producer and writer Laila Al-Arian has just returned from Cairo, where she interviewed Mahmoud’s widow. Laila Al-Arian joins us in Washington, D.C.
Laila, tell us his story.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Well, as you said, Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud was killed while he was simply filming. He took out his mobile phone after hearing some commotion outside of his office window near Tahrir Square, where there were confrontations — or rather, where police, state security elements were basically firing tear gas canisters and trying to beat back protesters. He simply stood next to his window, took out his cell phone, and then he was approached — you know, a police officer came near his window and said, "Move. Stop recording." And before he even had a chance to react, his wife told me, the policeman — the sniper shot him right away. And he collapsed on the ground. He fell into a pool of his own blood.
His co-workers then rushed to get an ambulance for him. The ambulance, after three or four phone calls, finally came, and they refused to take him after they were told that it was a gunshot wound, that he had been killed while filming the protest. So his co-workers then had to go and take him to Qasr al-Ainy Hospital, which is the largest hospital in Egypt, to be treated. He was in a coma for about six days before he succumbed to his wounds and died.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his wife and what she is demanding now, and why it was the ambulance further wouldn’t take him, and what she did.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: His wife, Inas Abdel Alim, is also a journalist. She is demanding a full investigation into the killing of her husband. She says no one knows who the perpetrator is, no one knows his name, although there were six or seven eyewitnesses that she spoke with at the scene who saw everything happen. She’s demanding that the Interior Ministry, especially, but in general that the government of Egypt investigate this killing of her husband, the first journalist killed during the Egyptian revolution, along with other human rights organizations who are also demanding the same thing. And she says there needs to be justice. She says, "My family has been ruined. You know, our lives are over." She still hasn’t actually been able to tell her 10-year-old daughter that her father has been killed. She says she’s too afraid to do so. So, her life has been changed forever, and all she wants is justice for her husband and, you know, for this to be investigated and for the person responsible to be put on trial.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a symbolic funeral held for him yesterday in Tahrir Square, just as you were flying out, Laila.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Yes, there was a symbolic funeral, because this killing of Ahmed Mahmoud has really shaken Cairo’s journalistic community. People are horrified by what happened. And they felt that holding a symbolic funeral for him will really be a way to honor him, to raise awareness about what happened to him, and to basically talk about the general crackdown against the media in Cairo, in Egypt, in general, where both foreign and Egyptian journalists have been targeted. They’ve been prevented from doing their job. And this is the most extreme example, which is the killing of someone for merely recording what was happening outside of his window.
So this was also — according to some of the journalists behind the symbolic funeral, such as Karim Yehia, who’s a writer for Al-Ahram, a state-owned newspaper, they really did this to send a message to the government, and even to their own press syndicate, which is a very powerful organization in Egypt, which Karim Yehia told me has very close ties to the government, to the security services. So they’re trying to basically send a message that they’re being silenced, that they’re not able to report freely on the events that are happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Laila, as you leave there, just talk briefly about your coverage of what happened in Tahrir Square and how just the killing alone of Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud has changed what is taking place there.
LAILA AL-ARIAN: Well, I think the killing of Ahmed Mohamed Mahmoud is, like I said, the most extreme example of a crackdown against the media by the Egyptian government, by the state security forces, who have detained journalists. Mubarak supporters have physically attacked journalists. The Egyptian army has detained journalists, as well, for a number of hours at a time. And this is a way for the Egyptian government to really control the message that’s going out there about what’s happening.
And in contrast to that, you have state television, which is really giving people a very skewed perception of and a very skewed narrative of actually what’s happening, everything from the assertion, the claim that’s completely unsubstantiated, that foreign elements, from Iran to Hamas to Hezbollah, are behind the protests in Tahrir Square, that there are no Egyptians involved, to the rumor that the protesters are all receiving free meals of Kentucky Fried chicken. I mean, you really see all sorts of things being put out there on state television that don’t really correspond to reality. They’re also being told that Mossad is behind the protests in Egypt. So, I think what they’re trying to do is control the message by skewing it, by completely misrepresenting what’s happening, and also by cracking down on independent journalists, journalists coming from outside of the country who want to cover it, as well as their own Egyptian journalists. So, you see with Ahmed Mahmoud’s killing, there was no mention by any state media that he was even shot, until the day that he died, basically six days later. So, the journalists there told me, "We didn’t even know our own colleague was shot for six days." They had no idea. So there’s also a censorship that’s going on. And they believe it’s because of the very close relationship between state media and state security services, as well as all these efforts that are being made to control the message.
AMY GOODMAN: Laila Al-Arian, writer and producer for Al Jazeera English, has just returned from Cairo in Washington, D.C.