CAIRO: Photographers expressed their condemnation of police violence on Sunday, during a protest held to coincide with National Police Day.
Under a banner reading “On the occasion of National Police Day…stop the police attack on journalists, photographers stood on the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo and held up images of members of the police assaulting photographers and journalists.
“These pictures prove that the police are in the service of oppression and dictatorship, rather than the people, head of the Journalists’ Syndicate’s freedoms committee Mohamed Abdel Qoddous said.
“All of Egypt stood with Gaza during the Israeli attack on it, but unfortunately the Egyptian government had a different position, Abdel Qoddous added.
He condemned the prevention, by police, of peaceful demonstrations organized in solidarity with Gaza, and the harassment, physical assault and arrest of journalists attempting to cover these demonstrations.
Hossam Diab, head of the League of Photojournalists – which organized the protest – called for an investigation into the assaults on photographers which took place during demonstrations against the Israeli attack on Gaza.
In addition to demanding an end to all police violence against photographers, Diab called for the cancellation of the system whereby photographers are required by the interior ministry to obtain permits, which he said is in violation of the Press Law.
Diab told journalists that he has met with officials from the interior ministry and questioned them about the repressive measures used by the police against journalists and photographers.
“The police’s excuse is that in the past it was easier to keep control of situations simply because there were less photographers and journalists and they knew them all individually.
“Now with the rise of new media such as satellite, and the opening of independent newspapers, there are many more photographers and journalists.
“This is not a justification we except, of course.
Diab says that one interior ministry representatives, Hamdy Abdel Karim, told him about a journalists’ “hotline.
“He gave us three or four numbers and said that if a journalist ever has problems while covering an event he could phone one of the numbers and someone from the police would respond immediately.
“When we called this hotline subsequently a junior police officer answered and told us that there was nobody there.
According to Diab, Abdel Karim acknowledged that the police “cannot stop photographers.
“The meeting was held around the time of the fire in the National Theater. [Reuters photographer] Nasser Nouri went up to the roof of a building overlooking the fire to shoot, but was followed by a policeman who destroyed his camera.
“We questioned Abdel Karim about this incident and he said that security restrictions on movement were put in place because of the danger posed by the fire.
“He added that the police ‘cannot stop photographers’ but that they must abide by security regulations imposed at the scene.
Diab acknowledged, when asked, that such security regulations are often imposed “at the whim of police.
According to Diab, the league organized the protest after the failure of the Journalists’ Syndicate to respond to their demands.
“This protest should have been held four or five months ago, but we thought we’d wait until after consulting the Journalists’ Syndicate. We sent a list of demands, the syndicate said it would act, but did nothing at all.
Independent photojournalist and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy, however, said that the league was eventually reluctant to add its name to the protest.
“This was an individual initiative by activist photographers which did not initially receive the support of the league whose leaders aborted the protest planned for Oct. 12, 2008, El-Hamalawy said.
“When it became clear that they were under pressure to endorse the protest, they did so.