[ A pro-Mubarak supporter is led away by the army during rioting near Tahir Square in Cairo February 3, 2011. Anti-government protesters and supporters of Mubarak clashed on Thursday near a central Cairo square in a re-run of overnight violence that killed six and wounded more than 800 people. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem ]
After reporters claimed a Hilton property in Cairo was cooperating with Egyptian security forces to harass and detain journalists, the hotel chain today confirmed in a statement that it has asked correspondents to stop filming there.
A number of western news staff have based their operations at the Ramses Hilton in Cairo, and according to reports circulating today, it was from this property that equipment belonging to BBC News reporters was seized.
Over the past 24 hours, security conditions for journalists in Egypt reporting on the popular uprising have deteriorated rapidly: a number of reporters have been beaten, arrested, detained, even threatened with beheading. In many cases, equipment has been confiscated. The incidents are believed to be part of a systematic campaign to block non-state media from covering what is becoming an increasingly bloody response to peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to Mubarak's 30-year authoritarian rule. Rumors are circulating among reporters in the region that hotels will be raided tonight by state security forces seeking to round up foreign news organizations.
I contacted the corporate communications office for Hilton Hotels worldwide, and a spokesperson shared the following prepared statement:
Due to the gravity, immediacy and dynamic nature of the situation in Cairo, our hotel is implementing additional measures to ensure the ongoing safety and security of our guests and employees, as this remains our highest priority. These measures include a request not to film from the property due to the threat this poses to the reporters themselves as well as others on property. We appreciate your understanding and support during these challenging circumstances.
But a source close to the story tells Boing Boing that the situation at the Cairo property is more complicated than the statement details. The Hilton Ramses is situated in an area just blocks from the center of the protests, and in an area effectively controlled by pro-Mubarak forces. Some thousand pro-Mubarak demonstrators were outside the hotel, threatening to throw rocks in the windows. They'd identified the property as home base for foreign news crews through the shots they broadcast. With a state of general chaos and instability throughout the city, intense hostility toward foreign news organizations, and no recourse to increase security at the location for staff and guests, the Hilton management made an "unprecedented" decision to insist that news crews staying at the location not broadcast from the hotel—during this period, reporters are apparently now being asked asked to check in their broadcast gear on arrival, and retrieve it when they step out of the property.
Hilton isn't the first western-owned business to receive criticism over perceptions of cooperating with authorities in Egypt during the unrest. Vodafone, the British-based cellphone network, reportedly sent pro-Mubarak text messages at the government's behest, while shutting down data and communications services for end-users.