The prominent US-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has described a brutal sexual and physical assault that she says she suffered after being arrested by Egyptian riot police during a 12-hour ordeal inside Cairo’s interior ministry.
Eltahawy, who writes for publications including the Guardian and the Toronto Star, says she had bones broken in both wrists by security officials, who also grabbed her breasts and genitals.
The award-winning Eltahawy, 44, told her story in a series of tweets at the time of her arrest and after her release.
The incident came amid growing concern over arrests and assaults on journalists, both by the security forces and others.
A Spanish photographer was taken to hospital after being beaten up and having his equipment stolen, while an unidentified woman reporter was reported to have been set upon in Tahrir Square by protesters on Thursday and allegedly beaten and stripped in an incident reminiscent of the attack earlier this year on the US television correspondent Lara Logan.
Eltahawy was arrested on Wednesday night near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the narrow street near Tahrir that has been the scene of some of the worst clashes between protesters and security forces.
Around 11pm GMT she wrote: “Pitch black, only flashing ambulance lights and air thick with gas.”
She then described the violence occurring around the gates of the American University in Cairo. “Can’t believe it. A cacophony of sirens, horns, flashing ambulance lights.”
In a penultimate tweet, she appeared to write “Beaten arrested in interior ministry.”
A series of dramatic tweets on Thursday morning began with the words: “I am free.” A few minutes later she reported: “12 hours with interior ministry bastards and military intelligence combined. Can barely type – must go xray arms after CSF pigs beat me.”
As she would discover later, they had broken her left hand and her right arm, leaving one hand so badly swollen she could not close it.
Eltahawy continued: “Five or six surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count of how many hands tried to get into my trousers. Yes, sexual assault. I’m so used to saying harassment but [they] assaulted me.”
Speaking to CNN after the incident, she said: “My left hand and my right arm are broken. This is as a result of a brutal beating by the Egyptian riot police who surrounded me.
“I was taking pictures and covering events on the frontline of confrontations between protesters and the police and the military and a group of five or six riot police beat me, and surrounded me and rained their big sticks down on my arms. I was trying to protect myself.
“They also sexually assaulted me. They dragged me to the ministry of the interior. They dragged me by the hair and called me all sorts of insults. And this all happened in about seven to eight minutes.”
Summoned for interrogation by military intelligence, Eltahawy at first did not want to go but was warned she would be taken anyway.
Despite being blindfolded for two hours and interrogated because she did not have her passport with her, she reported being more properly treated by the army, who photographed her bruises and apologised for her treatment at the hands of the police.
“The past 12 hours were painful and surreal but I know I got off much easier than so many other Egyptians. God knows what would’ve happened if I wasn’t dual citizen.”
A few hours after her arrest, Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera reported seeing what he believed was a US female journalist being attacked by a mob of about 100 men in Tahrir Square and hearing shouts of “American” and “spy”.
Later reports suggested that the reporter was French and had been stripped during the assault.
Two days earlier, another Spanish photographer, Guillem Valle, was taken to hospital after being assaulted during his arrest by security forces.
American-Egyptian film-maker Jehane Noujaim was released from prison a day after after being arrested while filming Wednesday night’s ceasefire between the Egyptian army, central security forces and protesters.
Jehane had been interviewing a press officer from the military near the interior ministry when the ceasefire was broken and central security forces fired teargas.
Following Noujaim’s release, journalist Salma Amer tweeted: “She’s with us now. She’s in great spirits as well :)”
After her arrest on Wednesday, a friend said that Noujaim was grabbed by a high-ranking military officer and accused her of being an Israeli spy and a traitor.
Ragia Omran, Jehane’s lawyer, said 23 more protesters had also been released from Abdeen police station.