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Egypt: Internet censorship and attacks on journalists amid major street protests

Street fury: Egyptian anti-government activists throw stones at riot police during clashes in Cairo, January 26, 2011. Egyptian anti-government activists clashed with police for a second day Wednesday in defiance of an official ban on any protests but beefed up police forces on the streets quickly moved in and used tear gas and beatings to disperse demonstrations.

Journalists were arrested and attacked physically while covering demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday in various Egyptian cities. The authorities have been doing everything possible to keep the media at a distance in order prevent the circulation of images of protesters demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s departure, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). No TV station was able to film yesterday’s big protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The authorities began jamming mobile phone communications early Tuesday afternoon in places where protesters had gathered in Cairo. Representatives of the Vodafone and Mobile Nile phone companies Wednesday denied any involvement in the disruption of service, blaming the Egyptian authorities.

The social-networking website Twitter and the livestreaming service Bambuser.com were both blocked Tuesday afternoon. The hashtag #jan25, referring to protest, was widely used on Twitter Tuesday.

Access to Facebook was intermittently blocked today, with the degree of blocking varying from one ISP to another. Egyptian dissidents and civil society groups have been using Facebook for years to disseminate information and organize protests, including the April 6, 2009 strike.

Slow Internet connections were reported, especially during attempts to access the online newspapers Al-Badil, Al-Dustour and Al-Masry Al-Youm. Access to Al-Badil and Al-Dustour was subsequently blocked altogether while Al-Masry Al-Youm experienced major problems that prevented it from operating during all of Tuesday afternoon.

Egypt is on the RSF list of Enemies of the Internet, above all for harassing and arresting bloggers, but it has not as yet set up Internet filtering systems as Tunisia and Iran have done. Many Egyptians posted messages on social networks in the past 24 hours voicing exasperation with the unusual level of censorship and began using proxies and other censorship circumvention tools to access blocked sites.

Seven Al-Masry Al-Youm journalists were attacked while covering the protests in Cairo. Ahmed Al-Hawari, the website’s editor, was attacked on Qasr Al-Aini Street by three anti-riot police, who tore up his press card and hit him with their batons although he shouted that he was a journalist. He was held for several hours. Mostafa Al-Marsafawi was injured by a tear-gas grenade. The staff of Al-Masry Al-Youm said they had been out of contact touch with one of their journalists, Mohamed Gamaleddine, since 4 p.m. (local time).

An Al Jazeera crew was briefly detained in the Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra. Police have reportedly been watching Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau and have been following its journalists. Tuesday night, 11 rubber bullets were fired at a cameraman employed by the Cairo News Company (CNC), Bilal Fahem, on Tahrir Square. He was hit in the face, stomach, shoulder and back. His soundman, Karim Atta, received many baton blows. Both were taken to a hospital, from which they were released a few hours later.

Yahia Fahem, another CNC cameraman, was attacked outside CNC headquarters by plain-clothes police officers and was briefly detained.

Three journalists with the Japanese TV station Asahi – Kosuke Okuno, Yoshihisa Nomura and Chaimaa Sami – were briefly detained along with their driver, Hani Morsi, at around 1 p.m. Wednesday as they were trying to film on Tahrir Square.

Date posted: January 27, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 157