TMCNet:  Egypt arrests 9 journalists following economic riots; Rights groups blast activists' arrests

[April 11, 2008]

Egypt arrests 9 journalists following economic riots; Rights groups blast activists' arrests

(Associated Press WorldStream Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) CAIRO, Egypt_Egyptian authorities detained at least nine Egyptian photojournalists and cameramen on Friday in a northern industrial city where economic riots erupted earlier this week, a security official said.


Also on Friday, James Buck, an American freelance journalist detained in Egypt the previous day over his coverage of the riots, said he had been released but was staying in a police station to protest the arrest of his translator.

Meanwhile, London-based Amnesty International said it was disturbed by the killings of two Egyptians during the rioting in Mahalla el-Kobra and the arrests of pro-democracy activists after unrest sparked by rising food prices.

Rising prices have struck hard in Egypt, a U.S. ally where 20 percent of the country's population of 76 million live below the poverty line of around US$2 a day. Mahalla, home to the Middle East's largest textile factory, has seen a wave of strikes for more than a year.

Earlier this week, protesters tore down a billboard of President Hosni Mubarak and fought with police in clashes in Mahalla that claimed two lives. It was Egypt's worst unrest since 1977 riots over increased bread prices.

The journalists arrested Friday were apparently in Mahalla to cover a visit by a group of professors and activists who came to express solidarity with the residents of the gritty Nile Delta city.

Among those arrested were Reuters photographer Nasser Nouri and independent Egyptian weekly paper El-Fagr's Ahmed Hamad, as well as journalists for Dream TV and Orbit TV, said the security official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from inside the Mahalla police station, Buck, the American journalist, said the state prosecutor had ordered his release early Friday along with his translator Mohammed Saleh Ahmed.

But the two were re-arrested as soon as they stepped out of the prosecutor's office in Mahalla. Although Buck was later told he was again free to go, he declined to leave without Ahmed, who remained in custody.

Police also prevented the group of 50 university professors, political activists and journalists from entering Mahalla earlier Friday. Science professor Yahia el-Qazzaz said some 100 plainclothes policemen surrounded their cars at a checkpoint on the road to Mahalla.

On Sunday, when rioting in Mahalla first broke out, Egypt staged a nationwide labor strike where thousands skipped school and work and hundreds of workers marched at rallies across the country to protest high food prices.

The demonstrations were organized by several opposition groups, including the pro-democracy Kifaya. It was the first major attempt by such groups to turn labor disenchantment into a wider political protest against President Hosni Mubarak's government.

Authorities arrested several Kifaya members and leaders afterward, including George Ishaq, along with his two associates. They were charged with inciting unrest and violence, which can carry up to 10 years in jail.

However, Ishaq was ordered released Friday on bail set at 10,000 Egyptian pounds, or US$1,834, another security official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

One of Ishaq's associates was ordered detained for 15 days pending investigation, while the other was to face a medical committee Saturday to determine whether he can be held in detention because of poor health.

Also Friday, Reporters Without Borders condemned arrest of three Egyptian bloggers accused of calling for the Sunday strike. The group said the three, who were ordered detained for two weeks, were charged with forming a group to "undermine public security," ransacking public buildings and insulting police.

The Paris-based watchdog, known by its French acronym, RSF, said there were no legal grounds for their arrests _ all that they did was support the April 6 strike, ask Egyptians to wear black, display national flags and boycott shopping on the day of the strike.

Egyptian authorities are "cracking down on anyone who may have issued the strike call, and bloggers are likely suspects," said the RSF. "We call for their release."

But Egypt's highest ranking Muslim imam, Sheik Mohammad Seyed Tantawi said in a sermons during Friday prayers that those inciting riots deserve punishment and that their acts amount to "sabotage." He was quoted by the state MENA news agency as saying that this "is criminal and deserves extreme punishment from God and people."

Copyright ? 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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