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Egyptian blackout 'underlines need for World Service'

1 February 2011

The Mubarak regime has imposed a blackout of internet services in Egypt. The NUJ has argued that this underlines the importance of protecting the BBC World Service from savage cuts that would deny fair reporting to people across the globe.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Internet services – and particularly the BBC's own online services – have played a significant role in developing an international culture of freedom of information.
"But events in Egypt have demonstrated that such services are vulnerable in times of trouble to autocratic state interference.
"The Egyptian government's attempt to close down the internet and mobile phone network demonstrates how short-sighted the current World Service transmission policy is. In a volatile world, the World Service needs to maintain its own network of transmitters beyond the reach of state interference so it can continue to deliver information to its audience."

The NUJ has joined the International Federation of Journalists in calling for an end to attacks on journalists who have been detained and beaten during protests in Egypt.

The IFJ accused security forces in Egypt of indiscriminate violence after scores of journalists were forcibly detained and beaten in Cairo, where protesters demanded political change in the country.

At least ten Egyptian journalists were detained during a protest held outside the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate (EJS) office in Cairo and foreign reporters were arrested and beaten while covering the protests.

Jim Boumelha, IFJ president and member of the NUJ's national executive council, said:

"Journalists the world over are appalled by the thuggery of Egypt's state security officers and riot police, who are beating and arresting protesters as well as journalists and photographers in Cairo."
"We hold the government primarily responsible for directing the police charge and call on them to order an immediate halt to these attacks."

The EJS said the journalists who were arrested on Wednesday have been released along with around 200 students after they insisted on the release of all detained protesters, especially university students who were due to sit their exams on Thursday.

The EJS says that journalists were demonstrating outside their offices when the security forces forcibly intervened to break up the protest and made several arrests among journalists and other protesters.

The journalists who were detained included Karem Mahmmoud, former head of the press freedom committee of the EJS, and Abd Al-Qudus; both of whom were badly beaten by police.

The Guardian's reporter in Cairo, Jack Shenker, was attacked by plain clothes officers while covering the protest in downtown Cairo. Other foreign reporters were also targeted, including Associated Press TV News cameraman Haridi Hussein Haridi and his assistant Haitham Badry who were arrested but have now been released.

The IFJ defends the right of journalists to express their views in a peaceful way and warns that the authorities' violent response is likely to escalate the protests and endanger the safety of media.

Jim Boumelha added:

"Journalists have a job to do and they have the right to be able to report safely on these demonstrations without being punched, kicked or arrested. The Egyptian government must be responsible for their safety."

Tags: , violence, cairo, bbc world service, ifj, hosni mubarak, journalists detained, journalists injured, press freedom, ejs, solidarity, guardian, ap