Friday, February 4, 2011

Account of police brutality targeting journalist

On Friday, January 28th - the popular uprising known as "Friday of Rage" took place throughout a number of Egyptian cities. In Cairo, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets following Friday noon prayers.

In an attempt to impose an information blackout, authorities had cut-off all Internet and cellphone services - in Cairo and a number of other cities - earlier on Friday morning.

Despite this decreased ability to communicate and coordinate street action, tens of thousands poured onto the streets from their homes and mosques in central Cairo's district of Abbassiya. Heading for Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, they chanted anti-Mubarak slogans as they marched peacefully down Ramses Street towards Ramses Square - where riot police and state-security forces had been deployed.

From an armored truck teargas canisters were fired at these protesters as they approached the square. Tens of canisters were fired amongst the marchers, before they started fighting back with rocks.

As a journalist covering this "Friday of Rage," I marched along with the protesters. Although I openly supported this anti-Mubarak protest march I was not involved in chanting, or the rock-throwing.

I was doing my job taking photos and videos of these clashes around the square. When a plain-clothed policeman hurling rocks back at protesters noticed that I was filming him in action. As he ran towards me I told him "journalist, I'm a journalist." I quickly found out that he was a member of the infamous state-security forces.

He tugged at the camera strap around my neck, I pulled back and told him "let go of my camera, I'm here doing my work." He cursed at me, and struggled to drag me along, until three of his parters-in-crime came to his assistance.

I was beaten with batons, kicked, punched, slapped and thrown over a fence as I held onto my camera. However, with enough force and brutality they managed to pry the camera from my hands. I knew at that moment that I would never see my camera again, and that all the photos/videos I had taken of this unprecedented uprising would be lost.

With the camera in their possession I thought that these state-security forces would cease beating me. They did not however, I was dragged by the collar of my jacket and beaten mercilessly until I was at another fence. At this point one of these policemen held my arms behind my back, while two or three others threw me over the fence - headfirst - onto the asphalt street below.

When my head hit the ground I could only hear a whistling-sound in my ears. For a second I thought I was dead, my second thought was that I might be paralyzed. I then moved my arms and got back on my feet. The state-security forces continued to curse me as they pulled me to a large blue prisoner-transport truck.

I was detained in this truck along with sixteen protesters, mostly youth. We were held in this parked truck for around half an hour; as we peeped outside the small grated windows we saw that thousands of more protesters had began confronting the police forces in Ramses Square.

The police were clearly losing the battle. Rocks began raining down upon the police forces, occasionally hitting the truck we were in. Teargas canisters were hurled back in our direction, nearly chocking us within. Under threat of being overrun, the truck sped-off.

After driving us around for around two hours, the truck pulled into the Central Security Forces' training camp in Tora - located in Southeastern Cairo. We were interrogated by plain-clothed officers, and then locked-up in the prison within this camp. Around 700 people, mostly youth protesters, were being held in this prison.

After languishing in our cells for around three hours, we began hearing loud and constant banging noises from another cell down the hall. Then an outburst of cheers could be heard. The banging noise then arrived outside our own cell. Suddenly the door of our prison cell swung open.

I'm not sure how the first group got out, but our fellow inmates had broken themselves out of their prison cells and then liberated us. One group unscrewed pipes from the bathrooms, and began pounding into the prison wall. Eventually three large holes were punched through the wall.

From these holes, a group of activists began negotiating with the conscripts and officers standing outside. Another group threatened to destroy the prison's main gate, and make a jailbreak. The conscripts expressed sympathy with us, and eventually junior officers informed us that we would soon be released.

Indeed, after only five hours, we were all released from the prison. Officers told us to leave without our personal IDs and belongings, but we demanded that they be returned. Soon enough some 700 IDs, cellphones, and personal belongings were returned to us and we were released.

Although I have not been able to retrieve my camera, and although my face and body are still bruised - I feel liberated by the spirit of resistance and rebellion amongst Egyptian youth. This spirit and determination served to defeat police forces on the streets of Cairo, and this same spirit managed to release us from prison.

If sustained, this revolutionary spirit will successfully bring down the Mubarak dictatorship which has oppressed Egypt for the past 30 years. The revolution of Egypt's youth is at hand.


Misanthrope's Paradise said...

Painful to see
Rest assured that Egypt’s struggle is in the thoughts and hearts of many and that those send their solidarity and empathy one way or another.
May the “strategy of tension” applied by the regime not succeed.
Don’t get sidelined.
There are difficult but also empowering times ahead of you.
All of you stay strong, stay safe, stay sound and most important stay wise.

„per aspera ad astra“

Jano Charbel said...

Dear Misanthrope,

Your words of solidarity are inspiring and encouraging.

You are totally correct about the "difficult" and "empowering" times awaiting Egypt.

Egyptian civil society is getting back upon its feet, people are starting to speak freely and openly, popular democracy is being discussed in public assemblies.

A popular and working class revolution will help Egypt evolve, slowly but surely.