At least 80 cases of attacks on journalists in May were documented as part of a new monthly report by the Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO).
The NGO highlighted that the number was not a comprehensive count of all assaults, only taking into account cases where verification was possible.
The Egyptian press is facing a crackdown by authorities, and oppression of the media has been increasing in the past three years, despite enjoying a freer environment following the 25 January Revolution.
Throughout the month of May, press freedom’s conflict between the state and the media appeared to have reached its peak. The month witnessed two unprecedented events, starting with 1 May, which became known as “Black Sunday” following the police’s storming of the Press Syndicate. Then, on 29 and 30 May, prosecution authorities detained and investigated the syndicate’s president and two deputies.
According to JATO’s report issued Sunday, assaults on journalists committed by authorities are higher than those committed by civilians, with 58 assaults occurring by authorities and only 21 by civilians. Out of the 58, the Ministry of Interior alone was responsible for 28 assaults.
The police have been cordoning off the syndicate for over a month, intensifying the security presence ahead of scheduled journalists’ assemblies. During one of the assemblies, a female journalist appeared in a video published by the local Al-Bawaba News in tears, saying she had been “abruptly denied entry despite showing her syndicate membership card”. She added that a police officer “put out his cigarette” in her hand as he pushed her “with a metal fence”.
During the events at the syndicate it was not only security forces who assaulted journalists, but also civilians, described by reporters as “thugs”, who often beat press members under police watch.
There were 15 cases of physical assault on journalists and 14 cases of verbal insult in total during the month, according to JATO.
Other types of attacks on journalists appeared in JATO’s report, on top of which came prevention of coverage, with 30 cases where journalists said they were denied coverage or their cameras were temporarily confiscated and content erased.
Several of these incidents took place at the Press Syndicate but also in other public places. For instance, journalist Ayat Waguih from Al-Mesreyoon local newspaper reportedly told JATO that she was denied entry into a technical school in Sayeda Zeinab to photograph the remains of a fire that had erupted a day earlier.
Waguih said that the ban came on the grounds that criminology experts needed to inspect the scene first, as told by school officials. However, as she tried to capture a photo of the school from outside, security officers prevented her.
In another instance, JATO reported on behalf of a journalist at Al-Watan in Port Said who after being notified of and officially permitted to attend a press conference for officials at the Suez Canal Authority was told by the public relations office that it was a ”closed meeting”.
There were several trials in which journalists were being charged that were carried out during May, including sessions for the case publicly known as the ”Rabaa dispersal”. The case involves photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has been in prison since August 2013. The next session was postponed to 28 June, reported JATO.
There was also the trial of Al-Fagr journalist Ali Abdeen, who was among a group of defendants sentenced in May to two years in jail over the Red Sea islands protests, then acquitted of the charges.