GENEVA — The U.N. Human Rights Office has denounced in the strongest terms Egypt's severe clampdown on news media, extending even to physical attacks against working journalists. The agency says government actions have hampered journalists in Egypt who are trying to do their jobs.
The Human Rights Office is calling for an independent investigation of all reports of violence against journalists, saying the numerous reports are alarming.
It condemns violence aimed at journalists, especially incidents linked to police and other government forces. The U.N. office notes reporters trying to cover last weekend’s third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution were assaulted and injured, and others were detained by authorities.
The U.N. human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says it is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous for journalists to carry out their work in Egypt. He says the atmosphere has become even more threatening since Wednesday’s announcement that terrorism charges are being brought against 20 journalists.
Egypt's prosecutor-general has said he intends to prosecute 16 Egyptian nationals and four foreign journalists working for the al-Jazeera broadcast network. They face charges of aiding a terrorist group and harming the national interest. Colville says this development is of great concern.
"These are people carrying cameras, not guns. Cameras seek to illuminate what is happening, not silence information by what is happening. So, it is extraordinary to find this being put into the kind of terrorist dialogue - that journalists are supporting terrorists. This is really an alarming development and we hope it changes very quickly," said Colville.
Five al-Jazeera staff are in custody now. Colville says the satellite broadcaster's journalists have been systematically targeted since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July, and this has provoked widespread concern among all journalists working in Egypt. He says in a VOA interview, that working in such a constricting and threatening environment is deeply detrimental to freedom of expression and opinion.
"I think under these circumstances, self-censorship is unfortunately inévitable, and that is one of our main concerns in terms of freedom of expression. It clearly is severely undermined when journalists are under this pressure and really fearing for their physical safety," he said.
Colville says journalists not connected to al-Jazeera have come under attack by government supporters who mistakenly link them to the Qatar-based network. He says his office has received numerous reports of intimidation of journalists, and that many have had their equipment seized.
The human-rights spokesman says there is mounting concern over journalists in détention reportedly being subjected to ill- treatment, or being held in conditions not in line with international human rights standards.