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Africa

FRANCE 24 journalist's Egypt ordeal

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-02-14

The situation for foreign journalists in Cairo took a violent turn last Wednesday, as many were pulled aside and beaten by pro-Mubarak rioters and military police. FRANCE 24 reporter Gallagher Fenwick tells of his experience.

On Wednesday, February 2, the mostly peaceful movement against embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave way to brutal street battles between anti-regime protesters and pro-Mubarak rioters in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In the midst of the fray, journalists and foreigners became a moving target.

FRANCE 24 had a team of nine special correspondents on the ground, and until that point things had been going smoothly – despite the Internet blackout and the unrest in certain neighbourhoods of the city.

But that Wednesday, the FRANCE 24 staff caught wind of a counter-demonstration of pro-Mubarak militants to take place that afternoon at Tahrir Square. The duelling protests quickly degenerated into violence, with weapon-wielding supporters of the president attacking the anti-government contingent. Five members of the team ventured into the clashes to get footage, but three of them – Gallagher Fenwick, Johan Bodin, and Adel Gastel – were quickly pulled aside by pro-Mubarak rioters. Fenwick was pummelled for several minutes by a furious crowd, and he and his two colleagues were subsequently detained and beaten repeatedly by Egyptian military police. The journalists were released 36 hours later.

‘One of the officers was cocking his weapon right next to our heads’

Fenwick, who is FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Jerusalem but was in Cairo to cover the events, recounted his run-in with the pro-Mubarak protesters. “There were very many of them,” he said. “They were hitting me with metal bars, wooden sticks, fists.”

After, Fenwick says the three were taken away by “men in uniform” who the journalists believe were military police. “They took us to their headquarters….the first thing they did was hit us,” Fenwick said. “One captain saw the bandages on my head, and the blood on my face and my head, and asked me if it hurt. I said ‘yes’ and he hit me right where I pointed to say it hurts.”

According to Fenwick, the men thought to be military police then “forced” the three FRANCE 24 journalists into a “closed area where there was a dark blanket with weapons and ammunition and people lined up against a wall with their eyes blindfolded.”

“They pushed us to the ground and asked us to kiss the ground, lying on our stomachs with our hands tied behind our backs,” Fenwick said. “They repeatedly hit our legs….and one of the officers was cocking his weapon right next to our heads.”

Fenwick, Bodin and Gastel were released late Thursday, and most of the FRANCE 24 team left Cairo one day later. Two minibuses provided by the French embassy shuttled the journalists, as well as reporters from other TV channels and radio stations, to the airport.

Several dozen journalists from various news organisations were reportedly pursued and beaten in the streets of Cairo on February 2 and 3.

Two FRANCE 24 correspondents stayed in the Egyptian capital to ensure coverage of the events, but changed hotels in order to keep a safe distance from Tahrir Square. The others arrived safely in Paris.

Date created : 2011-02-09

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