Canadian journalists targeted in Egypt

While snow falls in Canada, revolution rises ablaze in Egypt – and in the surrounding Arab world.

Tahrir Square, “Freedom Square,” has been up in arms with a divided opposition — both for and against — the ousting of Egypt’s 30-year ruler, President Hosni Mubarak. The protests in Egypt come soon after Tunisians took to the streets, forcing former President Ben Ali out of the country on January 14.

Amid the Egyptians protests, foreign and domestic human rights advocates and journalists have been targeted, and Canadians have been caught in the middle.

On January 28, The Globe and Mail reported “all mobile phone and Internet services in Egypt have been severed.” Resorting to the only method of communication available, The Globe’s Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin answered questions from Cairo over the phone.

On February 2, The Canadian Press reported that Sylvain Castonguay, of the CBC French all-news network, was beaten by a mob — “punched in the face and then swarmed and pummelled by dozens of people in Cairo before being rescued by soldiers.” His colleague Jean-Francois Lepine was eventually able to convince the soldier to intervene and stop the attack on Castonguay. The Canadian Journalism Project: J-Source links to a Agence France-Press report, which quotes Lepine saying: “My cameraman, Sylvain Castonguay, probably very nearly died because the crowd was extremely aggressive and large.”

On February 3, National Post reported on the fate of Canadian reporters and videographers in Egypt. That same day, CTV News released video footage showing Egyptians entering a room and confiscating the crew’s camera and gear. Richard Latendresse, a reporter for Quebec-based television network TVA, also had his camera confiscated, reported The Star. CBC News reported that reporter Margaret Evans had some of her equipment seized and in a separate situation, CBC News host Mark Kelley and crew were “in a vehicle on a bridge when they were surrounded by a group of armed men who demanded to search the car. The situation was settled by their Egyptian driver.”

On 3 February, Jas Johal called and Stuart Greer from Global National captured video footage of pro-Mubarak demonstrators harassing them while waiting inside a taxi. The two complied with their opponents, assuring them they had interviewed pro-Mubarak supporters that day.

J-Source reported that Globe and Mail journalists Sonia Verma and Martin were “scooped up at a checkpoint Thursday morning, by men in civilian clothes who seized their passports.” CBC News reported that the two media personal were taken to a cordoned-off section of a road with some 20 other foreigners – mostly journalists – and searched by authorities. After it was over, Verma said: “The guy actually shook my hand and said he was sorry.” Verma tweeted their experiences – before and after being arrested with Martin – via the #Egypt hashtag. Another prominent hashtag tweeters have been using through the deomnstrations is #Jan25.

Attacks on Canadian journalists from pro-Mubarak mobs continue today, February 4.

On February 2, Reporters Without Borders condemned the attacks faced by journalists from BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, Al-Arabiya and ABC News by “supporters who were reportedly accompanied by plainclothes police.” The same day, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) released a list of additional reporters affected by the demonstrations, including: Belgian journalist Maurice Sarfatti, deputy editor of Egyptian magazine October Sawsan Abu Hussein, Danish senior Middle East Correspondent Steffen Jensen, Jon Bjorgvinsson with Swiss Television Radio, four Israeli journalists (three from Channel 2) and Al-Shorouk’s reporter Mohamed Khayal and photographer Magdi Ibrahim. Media personal from France 2, France 24 and Le Soir were also targeted. CTV News furthermore cites injuries faced by a Greek print journalist, a Reuters television crew and a reporter with Turkish state television.

As the days go on – as the minutes go on – the list of harassed and injured journalists goes on.

On February 3, Postmedia News informed that the Canadian government called upon Egypt to “protect and immediately release any Canadian journalists detained.” On CTV News Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon announced: “Canada continues to urge Egypt to improve respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of association, and this includes the rights of journalists.”   

On February 3, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) — greatly concerned by the attacks on journalists and press freedom in Egypt — wrote a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, expressing concerns. Some of it reads:

CJFE is extremely concerned by measures being used to muzzle the press in Egypt including violent attacks, confiscation of broadcasting equipment and arrests. These measures are being directed at all journalists – local and foreign – including several Canadians… After days of peaceful protests, the Egyptian government and its supporters appear to be behind a plethora of seemingly coordinated attacks and arrests on journalists… CJFE calls on the Canadian government to do everything in its power to bring pressure upon the government of Egypt to cease attacks on the media and allow them to do their work. This is a crucial moment in the history of Egypt and it is vital that information be allowed to flow freely.”

IFEX, which is managed by CJFE, is working with three member organizations based in Egypt: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). They’re working under incredibly difficult conditions and at times have been unable to get much information out; IFEX is setting up a page on their website, where IFEX members can leave messages of support. Stay tuned to the CJFE website to also find this link.

IFEX has also been working closely with the demonstrations in Tunisia, via the Tunisia Monitoring Group.

Much is left up in Egypt’s revolutionary air. Will this be the end of dictatorship and the beginning of democracy for Egypt, or will it not?

As the days go on – as the minutes go on – the list of unanswered questions grows.

But one thing is for certain – with cameras off, recorders confiscated and journalists detained – no one will know the fate of Egypt. The protesters need the media to stay with them and the media need the authorities to cooperate.

If you have any information about Canadian or international journalist in Egypt – join this conversation!