02 January, 2009

Violent crackdown on Gaza protestors in Cairo

Police violently broke up several pro-Gaza demonstrations in Downtown Cairo today, right after the Friday prayer. Around 12 I arrived at Ramses Square which had turned into a virtual military zone, with hundreds of riot police and security agents occupying the square and cutting of some of the side streets. Around the square, Central security troops and large groups of men in civilian clothes surrounded people praying in the street outside small neighbourhoods mosques. When the prayer and sermon finished and the men started chanting "there is no God but God" plainclothes agents immediatly began draging some of them away to the Central Security transport trucks, while riot police violently pushed the remaining demonstrators back into a small side alley, beating them with sticks. Many bystanders were caugh up in the clashes that followed when large groups of riot police and plainclothes charged protestors that attempted to assemble in the surrounding streets .

In addition to attacking peaceful demonstrations there has been reports of police harrasment of journalists and photographers around the city. As was taking pictures of the arrests three plainclothes agents grabbed my arms and dragged me away, almost smashing my camera while doing so. Before letting me go they forced me to hand over the memory card (since I always carry an extra memory card I could save some of my pictures).

There is no excuse for preventing journalists doing their job during peaceful demonstrations. While there is nothing new to this kind of behaviour, on the contrary it is all too common in Egypt, I still think there is an urgent need for international human rights organizations as well as reporters without borders and similar groups to bring attention to the systematic and sometimes violent attacks on local and foreign journalists covering protests during the last few days. As a foreigner I enjoy a certain degree of protection and usually don't fear for my safety - but the same cannot be said about my Egyptian colleagues who are always at risk of being arrested or beaten while trying to do their job. They need and deserve international solidarity.

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