* U.S. condemns ‘concerted’ intimidation of press
* UK says harassment, Internet interference ‘unacceptable’
* Press watchdog says Egypt ‘eliminating witnesses’ (Updates with reporters freed, Egypt asked to stop attacks)
CAIRO/WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday condemned a “concerted campaign” to intimidate foreign reporters covering the protests against President Hosni Mubarak and said the Egyptian government must not target journalists.
Britain also criticized the harassment of journalists and Egyptian interference with the Internet and mobile networks.
Two reporters working for The New York Times were detained overnight and released, the newspaper said.
The Washington Post’s Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel and photographer Linda Davidson were detained covering Thursday’s protests. They were later released but Egyptian authorities told them they were not permitted to leave a hotel near the airport, Douglas Jehl, the newspaper’s foreign editor, said.
“Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who reiterated that the time for political transition in Egypt was now. Gibbs said acts to intimidate the media were “completely and totally unacceptable.” [ID:nN03288507]
“There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. U.S. diplomats pressed Egypt’s government to help stop the violence against journalists, he said later.
At least six people were killed and 800 wounded after gunmen and stick-wielding Mubarak supporters attacked demonstrators camped out for a 10th day on Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand Mubarak end his 30-year rule. [ID:nLDE712003]
“The abuse of Internet and mobile networks and, in particular, today’s increased intimidation and harassment of journalists are unacceptable and disturbing,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. [ID:nLAL004629]
Mobile operator Vodafone (VOD.L) said Egyptian authorities used its network to send out pro-government text messages.
Reuters television said one of its crews was beaten up on Thursday close to Tahrir Square while filming a piece about shops and banks being forced to shut during the clashes.
A Greek reporter was stabbed in the leg by Mubarak supporters and a photojournalist with him was beaten to the head, a Reuters witness said.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he and his crew were punched and kicked in Cairo by Mubarak supporters and escaped with just scratches as anti-government protests turned deadly on Wednesday. [ID:nN02226988]
The Hilton hotel in Cairo asked journalists not to film from its property due to the threat that could pose to them and other guests, a Hilton spokeswoman said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the attacks on foreign and Egyptian journalists were a government attempt at “blanket censorship” and intimidation by resorting to mobs.
“The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions,” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa coordinator of the New York-based press watchdog, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The government has resorted to blanket censorship, intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs,” it said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists listed several reported assaults on or against Egyptian, Arabic and international media during violence sparked when Mubarak supporters charged at anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. The army set up a buffer zone on Thursday between the two sides. [ID:nN02277269]
The Pentagon said officials were gathering details on the treatment of journalists in Egypt, but declined to point the finger at the military.
“To date, we have seen them act professionally and with restraint. Again, it’s a very fluid situation so we are watching every single day,” said spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan. (Reporting by Edmund Blair; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart, David Morgan and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington, and Adrian Croft in London; writing by Anthony Boadle; editing by Mohammad Zargham)