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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

CRISIS IN EGYPT: Downing Street responds to Institute concerns


DATE: 9 February 2011

THE PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE has responded to calls by the Chartered Institute of Journalists for the Government to speak out against attacks on the media in Egypt.

As the civil unrest and crisis in Egypt unfolds, journalists covering the protests against the leadership of President Hosni Mubarak have been deliberately targeted both by protesters and the authorities. Many reporters have been beaten up and arrested for simply doing their jobs.

The CIoJ expressed deep concern about the situation direct to the Government and, as The Journal was about to go to press, we were told by a Downing Street spokesman: “We have been gravely concerned by the particular situation faced by journalists in Cairo and elsewhere in recent days.

“We continue to raise such cases with the Egyptian authorities. The Government has been clear since the start of the current crisis in Egypt that freedom of speech and of assembly must be respected, and that the Egyptian Government must respond to the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people through reform, not repression.”

In a statement he issued with the Heads of Government of France, Germany, Spain and Italy, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, specifically singled out attacks against journalists, which he described as “completely unacceptable”.

The PM said: “We are watching with utmost concern the deteriorating situation in Egypt. The Egyptian people must be able to exercise freely their right to peaceful assembly, and enjoy the full protection of the security forces.

“We condemn all those who use or encourage violence, which will only aggravate the political crisis in Egypt. Only a quick and orderly transition to a broad-based Government will make it possible to overcome the challenges Egypt is now facing. That transition process must start now.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the Egyptian government has unleashed an “unprecedented and systematic attack on international media,” with the regime’s supporters assaulting reporters in the streets and security forces obstructing and detaining journalists who are covering the uprising.

“This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The systematic and sustained attacks leave no doubt that a government-orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news is well under way.”

In one 24-hour period alone, CPJ recorded 30 detentions, 26 assaults, and eight instances of equipment being seized. In addition, plainclothes and uniformed agents reportedly entered at least two hotels used by international journalists to confiscate press equipment.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said: “The attacks on journalists have now intensified to levels unseen in Egypt’s modern history. We are concerned for the safety of our colleagues, and we’re alarmed at the prospect of these witnesses being sidelined at this crucial moment in Egyptian history.”

The European Council has also condemned the violence, stating: “Any attempt to restrict the free flow of information, including aggression and intimidation directed against journalists and human rights defenders, is unacceptable.”

The calls have been joined by the White House which has issued a statement listing four steps the United States wants Egypt to take, including: “Restraining the Ministry of Interior’s conduct by immediately ending the arrests, harassment, beating, and detention of journalists, and political and civil society activists, and by allowing freedom of assembly and expression.”