CAIRO: Eleven reporters, supported by the Hisham Mubarak Center for Human Rights, have called on the Prosecutor General to investigate the brutality they were subjected to while covering the Dec. 31 protests in Cairo.
On Dec. 31, activists took to the streets heading toward the Arab League headquarters in Tahrir Square to protest the Gaza bombardment by Israel and the Arab silence during an emergency meeting between Arab foreign ministers.
Those who made it near the building were assaulted and beaten up by police forces, the activists said. The same happened to the journalists covering the protest.
According to journalists’ statements collected by the center, police violations varied from confiscating press IDs, smashing cameras, pushing and shoving, beating, using electric stun guns and trying to sexually harass one female journalist.
The center said the Cairo security department warned most news agencies and newspapers against sending their correspondents to the protest as cameras and other equipment would be confiscated, according to the testimonies taken by the center. Security also warned that foreign media covering the demonstration would jeopardize their work permission in Egypt, according to the center.
Among the 11 assaulted, eight were taken into custody and sent to the infamous Torah Prison for a few hours.
“Police forces wanted everyone to stay home for days, Rasha Azab, a journalist with Al-Fagr newspaper, told Daily News Egypt in a phone interview.
Azab was chased down the street and beaten up, before she was shoved into the police lorry, she said. She was among the eight taken to prison.
Azab added that most journalists who were covering the protest were familiar faces. Those who were not detained had their press IDs confiscated.
The Cairo-based rights center presented photos of some of the assaults as it happened as evidence in the case. Some of the photos showed Salah Al Rashidy, photojournalist with Sout Al Umma newspaper, while he was violently handled by police.
“They shattered his source for making a living, a LE 9,000 camera, and when he tried to file a report against those who attacked him, and after long hours of talking with deputies at the station, they refused to allow him to file a report and gave him a lens, which comprised what was left of his camera, Ahmed Ragheb, a lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Center, told Daily News Egypt.
Article 48 in the Egyptian constitution states that freedom of the press and media is guaranteed and Article 210 emphasizes that journalists have the “right to get news and information under the law.
“We were taking picture of police forces beating and assaulting protesters and once we were spotted by officers, we were immediately surrounded by tens of them, Alsaied Al Harany, another journalist with Al-Fagr newspaper, told Daily News Egypt.
“They formed a circle around me, hitting me until I fell down, Al Harany said. The police officers didn’t stop the beating after he fell, he claims.
According to Al Harany, the police truck drove aimlessly for five hours until they reached the Torah detention center. They were released, shortly after. His statements were confirmed by the other reporters contacted by Daily News Egypt.
“There is a vast difference between reporting on violence that erupts during protests and being part of your story, Harany said.
One of Al-Masry Al-Youm s reporters was electruted twice by police tasers. The man, Ali Zalat, was taken to the Red Crescent hospital on Ramsis Street for treatment.
Noha Mehanna said she was both beaten and sexually harassed by police.
“They ran after us trying to take my cell phone that had photos of the beating and I didn’t know they were the police as they were wearing plain clothes, Mehanna said.
“I was surrounded with plain clothed men trying to stop me from moving and meanwhile some of them tried to take my shirt off, Mehanna added.
“Some of them groped me but when I screamed they were just hitting us and later we were thrown into the lorry, Mehanna said.
This is not the first time Egyptian security forces are accused of sexually harassing women at a protest. On May 25, 2005, some 30 women were allegedly sexually assaulted by police officers and their plain-clothes assistants. Some of the women tried to sue but the prosecutor’s office, presented with videos of the incident, said there wasn’t enough evidence to identify and prosecute the assailants.
“We are not expecting much from the report we filed, but we are want to send a message to the police that ‘we know what you are doing’, the group’s lawyer said. “However, we are taking the legal battle to its end. We can only hope to bring those assaulters to court. he added.