Foreign journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs in Egypt on Thursday, and two dozen were detained by security forces.
Foreign photographers reported attacks by supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square, the scene of vicious battles between Mubarak supporters and anti-government protesters.
Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, widely considered the first successor Mubarak has ever designated, fueled anti-foreign sentiment by going on state TV and blaming outsiders for fomenting unrest.
The government has accused media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want the president to quit now rather than serve out his term, as he has vowed to do.
“When there are demonstrations of this size, there will be foreigners who come and take advantage and they have an agenda to raise the energy of the protesters,” Suleiman said on state television.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said 24 reporters were detained in 24 hours, including representatives of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Twenty-one journalists were assaulted, including two with Fox News. One Greek journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver, and a photographer was punched in the face, his equipment smashed. It also said there were five cases in which equipment was seized.
Swedish public broadcaster SVT said one of its reporters, Bert Sundstrom, was stabbed on Thursday. The network said it’s unclear what happened but that when an editor called Sundstrom’s cellphone a man answered in Arabic that the reporter was in the hands of the Egyptian government. SVT said Sundstrom was seriously injured, but described his condition as stable.
Both foreign and Egyptian journalists were targeted in attacks that have “intensified to levels unseen in Egypt’s modern history,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the committee’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
“This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism,” said Joel Simon, the group’s executive director. “Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world’s worst oppressors.”
The Arabic news network al-Arabiya pleaded for the army to protect its offices and journalists, and al-Jazeera said four of its correspondents were attacked.
The BBC’s foreign editor said security forces had seized the network’s equipment in a hotel to stop it broadcasting.
Human rights activists were also targeted. Military police stormed the offices of an Egyptian rights group as activists were meeting and arrested at least 30, including two from the London-based Amnesty International, Amnesty spokesman Tom Mackey said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said one of its activists was also among those arrested.
Amnesty’s secretary-general Salil Shetty demanded their immediate release saying they should be allowed “to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt at this crucial time without fear of harassment or detention.”
In Berlin, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “intimidation and restrictions” being placed on journalists and human rights groups in Cairo.