Anderson Cooper and others in the CNN crew were attacked...

Anderson Cooper and others in the CNN crew were attacked by Egyptian pro-government supporters in Cairo. (Nov. 20, 2010) Credit: AP

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak unleashed their fury on the media Wednesday, beating and threatening journalists who were covering fierce battles between pro- and anti-government crowds in central Cairo.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists accused the Egyptian government of orchestrating attacks on reporters in an attempt to deprive the world of independent information about the unrest. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said “infiltrated policemen” had joined the assaults. The Egyptian government denied the allegations.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper was among those roughed up during a chaotic day in which Mubarak backers turned out in force for the first time in nine days of protests against his autocratic rule. Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera.

“This is incredibly fast-moving,” he said. “I’ve been in mobs before and I’ve been in riots, but I’ve never had it turn so quickly.” A journalist for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television suffered a concussion, said media watchdog International Press Institute, citing Randa Abul-Azm, the station’s bureau chief in Cairo.

The attacks appeared to reflect a pro-government view that many media outlets are sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term. On Tuesday night, Mubarak pledged not to run in elections later this year, and the army urged people to cease demonstrating.

In Wednesday’s fighting, security forces did not intervene as thousands of people hurled stones and firebombs at each other for hours in and around the capital’s Tahrir Square.

ABC’s Christiane Amanpour said she could tell how the mood had changed from previous days after arriving in the square.

“You could smell it there,” she said. “I just wondered what this was going to bode for the day.” She quickly found out: Thugs surrounded Amanpour and her crew shouting “We hate Americans” and “Go to hell,” she said.

Amanpour decided to leave and her team got into a car. They were surrounded by a crowd that began rocking and pounding on the car, she said. Then someone threw a rock that shattered the windshield. The ABC team escaped unhurt.

The Egyptian government has used “blanket censorship, intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

CPJ cited a report by independent daily Al-Shorouk in Cairo that men described as “plainclothes police” attacked their headquarters Wednesday, injuring two reporters and smashing a camera.

There were reported assaults on journalists for the BBC, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.

“We strongly condemn these attacks and urge all parties to refrain from violence against journalists, local or foreign, who are simply trying to cover these demonstrations and clashes for the benefit of the public,” Anthony Mills, press freedom manager for Vienna-based IPI, said in a statement.

“We are particularly concerned at suggestions that the attacks may have been linked to the security services,” he said. Government spokesman Magdy Rady said the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was a “fiction,” and that the government welcomed objective coverage.

“It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need your help,” Rady said in an interview with The Associated Press. However, he said some media were not impartial and were “taking sides against Egypt.” Also Wednesday, Israeli media said four Israeli journalists in Egypt were arrested for violating the nightly curfew and working on tourist visas. Three were later released.

Israel Radio said one of the journalists worked for an Arabic-language portal based in the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth. Israel’s Channel 2 TV denied reports that three of its reporters were among those detained.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement calling on Israeli reporters in Egypt to “remain alert, act responsibly and follow the rules.” Egyptian state television reported Tuesday night that foreigners were caught distributing anti-Mubarak leaflets, in what appeared to be an effort to depict the protest movement as foreign-fueled. The government restored Internet service on Wednesday after having shut it down since last week, apparently to thwart protesters from organizing.

The website of Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper said Belgian reporter Serge Dumont, whose real name is Maurice Sarfatti, was beaten Wednesday while covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration and taken away by unidentified people dressed as civilians.

The paper said Sarfatti had been able to call the paper to tell them he had been taken to a military post.

“They are saying I’m going to be taken to see security services. They accuse me of being a spy,” the paper’s website quoted him as saying.

Le Soir said Sarfatti uses the byline Serge Dumont and that he also works for Switzerland’s Le Temps and France’s La Voix du Nord newspapers.

A reporter for Turkey’s Fox TV, his Egyptian cameraman and their driver were abducted by men with knives while filming protests Wednesday, but Egyptian police later rescued them, said Anatolia, a Turkish news agency.

There was no information on why the crew was held or circumstances surrounding their release.

A correspondent and a cameraman working for Russia’s Zvezda television channel were detained by men in plainclothes and held overnight Tuesday, Anastasiya Popova of Vesti state television and radio said on air from Cairo.

“All of their equipment, cameras and all cassettes, were taken from them, they were taken to a house and blindfolded,” Popova said. They were questioned, she said, “but today they took them to the outskirts of town and let them go without any explanation.”

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