Civilian Deaths at Protest Heighten Tensions and Repression in Egypt

by    /  October 25, 2011  / No comments

Video: A visibly shaken anchor for Al Hurra, a news station funded by the U.S. government, continues broadcasting while security forces search the station.

October 9, Egypt: A demonstration against religious persecution of Coptic Christians turned fatal, and led to increased media censorship from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Wael Mikhael, an Egyptian cameraman for the Coptic television broadcaster Al-Tareeq, was shot in the head while filming the military clash with demonstrators.

During state television coverage of the conflict, anchors called on viewers to go to Maspero, headquarters of the Egyptian television and radio union, and defend the military from the “angry Christians” assembling there. Mobs attacked fleeing protesters with machetes, swords, and cudgels. The state’s broadcast didn’t report the 24 deaths and 107 civilians wounded in the conflict, focusing instead on 3 military deaths.

Video: During SCAF’s crackdown on the October 9 protests, protesters were run down by armed vehicles and shot with rubber bullets. Several news stations in Egypt were shut down for covering the protest.

Raids and Shut-Downs

The newspaper Al-Shorouk had electricity, phone lines, and Internet cut twice on October 9. The independent daily had released video footage of dead and injured Christian supporters on its web site.

Military personnel also raided the headquarters of 25 TV, forcing the station to go off the air and confiscating tape showing army tanks running over Coptic protesters and shooting into the crowd.

Al-Hurra, a news station funded by the U.S. government, was subjected to a search at the same time as TV 25. Both stations are housed in the same building. Al-Hurra was live-broadcasting the clashes between the Coptic demonstrators and soldiers in Maspero. Soldiers searched Al-Hurra’s studio under the pretense of pursuing men who entered the station. They harassed staff, and cut the live broadcast when they left. An Al-Hurra reporter said that the network stopped coverage for “security reasons.”

According to Shahira Amin, a journalist inside the country, 12,000 people have reportedly been tried in military courts over the last eight months – more than throughout the entire presidency of Mubarak.These events and others suggest press freedom under SCAF is just as bad, if not worse, than under Mubarak before the January revolution. In the wake of the October 9 incidents, Egyptian political forces are calling for SCAF to step down, and a transitional civilian authority to have executive power put in its place.

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