CAIRO — An international press freedom group on Wednesday condemned violence against journalists covering anti-government protests in Egypt and called on authorities to release at least seven journalists who it said have been detained.
Among them were an AP Television News cameraman and his assistant arrested by police early Wednesday while they filming clashes between security forces and protesters in central Cairo. An AP photographer was also beaten by a policeman and injured while shooting demonstrations.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said local and international media personnel have been widely targeted and that authorities have shut down the websites of two independent Egyptian newspapers and blocked access to social media Internet sites.
It said at least six journalists from one independent Egyptian daily alone have been beaten, including the managing editor of the paper's English-language edition. Al-Masry Al-Youm's Lina Attalah told CPJ that four policemen pulled her by the hair and kicked her in the face and back.
"We call on Cairo to bring to an immediate end to all forms of violence against the media, release all detained journalists and lift online censorship," the New York-based CPJ said.
APTN's Haridi Hussein Haridi, 54, and his assistant Haitham Badry, 23, were taken into custody at the climax of the first day of unrest. Haridi telephoned the AP news bureau to say the two had been pushed into a police van and were being driven to an unknown location before his mobile phone was disconnected.
Nearly 18 hours later, Haridi telephoned a colleague to say he and Badry were in police custody. He said they had not been mistreated but would not be released soon. He said he did not know why they were still being held.
Both were detained although they are accredited and were carrying press documents issued by Egyptian authorities.
Separately, AP photographer Nasser Gamil Nasser, 43, had his right cheekbone broken and will need surgery to repair the fractures. He said a policeman charged him while he was shooting protests late Tuesday and hurled a stone at his face. His camera was smashed.
Abdel Mohsen Salama, deputy of the head of the journalist's association, said eight journalists have been detained in the protests.
"The AP complies with the laws of every country in which it gathers news and expects its staff to be treated with professional respect. We call on the Egyptian authorities to uphold the right of journalists to report without fear of detention or violence and to immediately release the detained AP television crew" said AP Vice President Sandy MacIntyre, director of AP television's international news operations.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. was pressing the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to release the journalists.
"We are aware that certain reporters have been detained – a couple of AP reporters in particular," Crowley said. "We have raised this issue already with the ministry of foreign affairs and we will continue to monitor these cases until they are successfully resolved."
Tens of thousands of Egyptians, inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, turned out Tuesday in several cities in an outburst of political discontent with President Hosni Mubarak's rule, widespread poverty and unemployment.
In Cairo, the first day of protests culminated around 1 a.m. Wednesday, when a large police force fired tear gas and beat protesters to clear the central Tahrir Square, where Haridi and Badry were filming.
The force moved in arresting people, chasing others into side-streets and filling the square with clouds of tear gas.
A senior Middle East cameraman, Haridi has worked for APTN since 1997, covering major news events in the region. His work often took him outside his native Egypt to locations such as Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Sudan.
Badry was recently retained by APTN in Cairo.