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Violence Directed at Photojournalists During Egypt Crisis

© Marta Ramoneda/Polaris © Marta Ramoneda/Polaris

During the recent political demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, photojournalists have faced harassment, media blackouts, threats, violence and even death as they tried to cover the wave of protests that have rippled across the Middle East in early 2011.

The recent 18-day uprising in Egypt, which deposed President Hosni Mubarak after a 30-year reign, was relatively non-violent, but still perilous for photographers and other journalists as they tried to document the protests in the capital city of Cairo. The AP reported that Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, 36, an Egyptian journalist, died from a gunshot while he was taking photographs of fighting between protesters and security forces from the balcony of his home on Jan. 28.

At least two photographers were beaten and their gear stolen as roughly a thousand supporters of Mubarak clashed with press and demonstrators in Cairo's Tahir Square. AP's Nasser Gamil Nasser, a Palestinian photographer based in Egypt, reportedly suffered a shattered cheekbone from a rock thrown by a Cairo police officer.

A group of ABC News crewmen were threatened, for instance, that they would be beheaded. To prevent these types of threats, some photojournalists have been using Twitter to learn where pro-Mubarak forces were looking for journalists to apprehend.

During the government-imposed internet blackout in Cairo – long a major Middle Eastern media hub for news agencies – photographers continued covering the protests with cell phone cameras, satellite phones and pirated internet connections to file their photos and stay in contact with their editors. Even when the internet was restored, some news organizations, such as PTN News, had their satellite dish aggressively dismantled. Travel has also been a problem for journalists as the Egyptian military has taken over both political and policing duties.

Egypt was not the only danger zone for journalists covering the recent political unrest in the Middle East. In mid-January, during the uprising in Tunisia, which overthrew the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, photojournalist Lucas Dolega, 32, died from a wound caused by a tear-gas canister that was fired by riot police at close range while he was taking pictures at a Tunis demonstration. Dolega was a stringer on assignment for the European Pressphoto Agency.