Journalists covering refugee crisis attacked by Hungarian police

At least eight journalists were beaten and three detained as they covered a clash between refugees and the Hungarian police at the border with Serbia on 16 September.

Among those attacked were Swedish photographer Meli Petersson Ellafi, Jordan Davis, a journalist at Swiss RTS, and an entire film crew working for Radio Television of Serbia. They were covering events at the Horgoš-Röszke highway border crossing, which the Hungarian authorities had blocked the day before, leaving around 2,000 refugees stranded on the Serbian side.

On 16 September, at around 2:30 PM local time, refugees attempted to break through a gate into Hungary. While most were protesting peacefully, a small number threw stones and bottles across the fence at the Hungarian riot police. The police responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons.

“At some point, the riot police retreated from the fence and the refugees managed to open the gate,” Timea Becková, who works for Slovakian newspaper Denník N, recalls. Confusion followed, with many refugees thinking the Hungarian authorities would let them in, so they walked towards the riot police on the Hungarian side. Several dozen journalists on the Serbian side followed the crowd.

At around 5:30 PM, TEK, the Hungarian anti-terror SWAT unit, equipped with sidearms, helmets and face masks, started pushing the refugees back towards Serbia.

“As I was moving backwards, I stopped for a moment to help an old man who fell and risked being trodden by riot police, which is when an officer hit me with a baton,” Becková said. She repeatedly told police in Hungarian that she is a journalist, but it made no difference.

“Suddenly the TEK guys, not the riot police, started running towards us — it was mayhem,” says Warren Richardson, an Australian photographer. Despite having two cameras, he was grabbed from behind by an officer.

“Clearly he was there to beat, not to ask questions,” Richardson told Index on Censorship, adding that he was standing on ‘no mans’ land’ between Serbia and Hungary. “From there they beat me into Hungary, then took me from the border to the police station illegally. They kidnapped me.”

“Law enforcement lost control of the situation,” Becková said. While she doesn’t hold a grudge against TEK, she says the events that followed were outrageous. She was forcefully brought back to the Hungarian side — with her hands tied tightly with a plastic wrap — where she was thrown to the ground.

She was later handed over to the regular police along with Richardson, who was kicked in the head and chest, and the Polish journalist, Jacek Tacik, who suffered a head wound. They were taken to a police station in Szeged along with a number of detained refugees.

There they were questioned on suspicion of having crossed the border illegally. In addition, Becková was accused of inciting rebellion and Tacik was told he had assaulted a policeman. However, this accusation did not emerge again during his interrogation, he told Index.

During questioning, Richardson refused to cooperate. “I stood up for myself. They were making up laws. They never took my name, personal address or fingerprints,” he said.

After interrogations that lasted up to 13 hours, the journalists were released and the charges were dropped.

In a statement, the Hungarian police denied beating the journalists. “The police — in accordance with the law — used necessary and proportional force against the members of an aggressive group that was using instruments that could cause serious harm to the police protecting the border of Hungary and the European Union. The media workers stayed at their own risk in an area where the police — after a proper warning — used coercive instruments.”

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said it was a surprise to find journalists among the chaos. He said that in situations like this, the safety of journalists cannot be guaranteed, therefore they should stay away. A policeman is not in the position to judge who is a troublemaker and who represents the media, he added.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has denounced the attack. “It is incomprehensible to see an EU country like Hungary constantly violating press freedom and human rights. The European Commission and international institutions must take action against these serious violations,” EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard said.

“It is a prerequisite for EU member states to respect the EU Charter on fundamental rights which sets out standards on media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The incident was also condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We are appalled by the police violence against journalists covering this world story,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The Hungarian government must make a clear and unequivocal statement that it will not tolerate such behavior.”


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Ukraine: International outrage at violence against journalists

International organisations have expressed their grave concern at the violence carried out against journalists and media workers covering the on-going protests in Ukraine.

According to the OSCE more than 40 journalists representing national and international media outlets have been physically assaulted and injured whilst covering the public protests in Kiev. Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, spoke today of her worries of the magnitude of violence.

“I am especially concerned that in most of the cases, the beatings were reportedly conducted by the law enforcement officers who attacked the journalists and disregarded their press identification. Violence against journalists cannot be tolerated”, Mijatović wrote in a letter to OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has also spoken out against the violence, urging the President and government of the Ukraine to stop the unlawful actions taken against their colleagues: “Being in the centre of events is a journalists’ job, but not a reason to try brutal force on them. We call on the authorities to investigate each incident of attack on our colleagues, and to ensure normal conditions for journalists’ work. Absence of reaction to the violence looks like connivance.”

According to the BAJ cameramen, correspondents, photographers and journalists from organisation including Euronews, the Associated Press and Insider have all been attacked by officers of security squads whilst covering the protests.

Any response by the OSCE has been complicated by the fact that Ukraine is the 2013 Chairman of the international security organisation. A statement issued today by the international Civic Solidarity platform, as participants of the OSCE civil society parallel conference, stated: “violence, threats, the beating of activists and journalists causing serious injury, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and court restraining orders that restrict the freedom of peaceful assembly – these form only a partial list of the phenomena we have witnessed in recent days not only in Kiev, but in other Ukrainian cities as well.”

Protestors have been calling for the resignation of the government since November after the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign a deal on closer EU ties.

This article was posted on 2 Dec 2013 at

Peru: Drunken congressman attacks journalists

The security guards of a Peruvian congressman have been involved in attack on two journalists. Carlos Chávez Galdós and Leucario Madera Guardaluna, from TV stations Compañía de TV Cuzqueña and Canal 47 de Cuzco, were attacked outside a nightclub in Cuzco, southern Peru, after they suprised Congressman Rubén Coa Aguilar while he was drunk. According to the journalists, the Congressman’s bodyguards and nightclub security personnel attacked them and took their video cameras, after Coa Aguilar asked his security to hit the reporters, take their equipment and delete their videos.

Yemen: Journalists in further attacks

Two Yemeni journalists were attacked by armed men on Monday.  Abdul al-Hafeez al-Hatami from news website Al-Sahwa Net and Raafat al-Amiri, cameraman for Suhail TV, an opposition news station, were covering the rising prices of oil in the western province of Hobeidah.  The journalists were attacked by a group of men in Al-Duha district, who confiscated their camera, which was only returned after intervention and negotiations from a local tribe. This attack follows a similar attack on a BBC journalist in August, and previous attacks on Al-Sahwa Net and Suhail TV, highlighting the increasing danger for journalists in Yemen.