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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A.P. Cameraman Detained in Egypt After His Images Appear on Al Jazeera

A cameraman covering the constitutional referendum in Egypt for The Associated Press was arrested on Wednesday while transmitting live video from a polling place in Cairo.

The journalist, Hassan Abdullah Hassan, told the news agency by telephone that he was detained, along with his driver, after police officers saw his images being broadcast by Al Jazeera and mistakenly concluded that he must work for the Qatari satellite network. Al Jazeera, like hundreds of Associated Press clients, pays the wire service to use video, photographs and text reports gathered by A.P. journalists.

Al Jazeera is despised by the military-backed government which deposed former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood for its flattering coverage of the Islamist movement. As my colleague Liam Stack reported, four well-known journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English channel were arrested at their hotel in Cairo last month and are being held, in harsh conditions, for reporting on anti-government protests. Two reporters for the broadcaster’s main Arabic-language channel have been in jail since they were arrested in August while covering the security forces’ deadly assault on protesters in Cairo.

Before the polls closed Wednesday night after two days of voting, observers across Egypt reported that soldiers and police officers at polling places had encouraged voters to approve the new constitution, often to a backdrop of blaring patriotic music, and harassed or detained journalists, election observers and voters who seemed insufficiently enthused about the ballot choices.

The Economist correspondent Max Rodenbeck reported that a Washington public relations firm recently hired to help the country burnish its image “sent a film crew to Egypt to shoot some pretty footage of order and progress. Within hours of setting foot on the streets of Cairo, they were arrested.”

The Cairene daily Shorouk reported that one election observer, the activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, was chased from one polling place by an enraged citizen who accused him of spying.

The continued crackdown on dissent, even during a referendum, led some Egyptian observers to suggest that the military-backed government had trouble with even a facade of democracy.