Egyptian state media: Troops took 18 journalists to a ‘safe place’

Cairo, Egypt— Military forces secured 18 journalists who were captured by thugs and took them to a “safe place,” Egyptian state media reported Friday.

It was unclear which news organizations the journalists worked for or where they had been taken. CNN could not independently confirm the reports.

Journalists attempting to cover unrest in Egypt reported being beaten, arrested and harassed by security forces and police Thursday, leading to sharply limited television coverage of the protests.

In the latest incident, the Al-Jazeera network said Friday that a “gang of thugs” stormed its Cairo office and burned the facility and the equipment there.

Al-Jazeera said that over the last week “its bureau was forcibly closed, all its journalists had press credentials revoked, and nine journalists were detained at various stages.” The network said it “faced unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal as well as persistent and repeated attempts to bring down its websites.”

Like other networks, Al-Jazeera said it won’t let such obstacles stop it from gathering news.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from across the world for our coverage in Egypt and can assure everyone that we will continue our work undeterred,” a network spokesman said.

Along with Al-Jazeera, other news outlets — including the BBC, Al-Arabiya, ABC News, the Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN — said members of their staffs had been attacked or otherwise targeted. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also reported that staffers were detained.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based advocacy organization, said late Thursday it had recorded 24 detentions, 21 assaults and five instances of equipment having been seized in the past 24 hours. A popular Egyptian blogger was among those who reported being beaten.

“With this turn of events, Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world’s worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

As access grew more and more limited, news channels curbed their coverage of the crisis, showing file footage of the protests and cutting some of the intensity that characterized their earlier reports. CNN journalists broadcast from secret locations Thursday night because of security concerns.

Speaking on state-run Nile TV Thursday, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman mentioned the role of the media and, at least in part, blamed journalists for the country’s current unrest.

“I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels, they are not friendly at all, who have intensified the youth against the nation and the state,” he said. “They are actually continuing. They have filled in the minds of the youth with wrongdoings, with allegations, and this is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks on journalists in Egypt Thursday, “in the strongest possible terms.”

U.S. State Department officials told CNN earlier that they had information that Egypt’s Interior Ministry was behind the journalist detentions, citing reports from the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. Department officials were expected to discuss the issue with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and the Foreign Ministry in Cairo.

“The threats to journalists on the street were explicit, and increasing. We pulled back accordingly to protect our people,” said CNN Executive Vice President Tony Maddox.

In addition, several human rights groups reported their representatives had been detained.

The Hisham Mubarak Law Center, a human rights law firm, was taken over by military police, as was the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Oxfam International said in a statement. A total of eight people were detained, including the directors of both centers, the organization said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks.

“The freedom of speech, whether journalists or demonstrators — they should be fully guaranteed and protected. That is a ground principle of democracy,” he said.

Journalists were also targeted on Wednesday, with some beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by men, most of them apparently aligned in some way with President Hosni Mubarak. In several cases, news personnel were accused of being “foreign spies,” seized, whisked away and often assaulted.

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