Jess Hurd

Posts Tagged ‘National Union of Journalists’

The Day of Rage – Remembering The Egyptian Revolution

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Today I woke up from a nightmare, I was back photographing the Egyptian Revolution. It has been ten years since the start of the Arab Spring when the people stood up to dictatorship and oppression in the Middle East.

The story  began in Tunisia in December 2010 and it became clear that if the revolt spread then Egypt would be key in the region. I had worked in Cairo before covering a peace conference and was very aware of the oppression living under Hosni Mubarak. Political dissent was crushed, people were tortured.

Myself and video journalist Jason Parkinson headed to Cairo for the Day of Rage on the 28th January 2011. We stepped out from our hostel deliberately looking like tourists, the secret police were searching people on the streets, our plan was to make it to one of the main mosques for the end of Friday prayers. People were in the street as the mosques were overflowing when they were attacked with live rounds as they knelt. It was chaos, tear gas was fired from the top of armoured personnel carriers and people were running everywhere.

The attack on Egyptians praying was shocking. It galvanised opposition to the the regime, millions joined the revolt across the country. We joined a rolling demonstration, which gathered pace and people through the city shouting “Down down Mubarak!”, the protesters were ambushed on every turn, this was planned suppression.

I was keen to stay with the body of the protest, so that we were not picked off, but we were caught in cross fire and had to shelter, documenting the wounded from baton rounds.

I was grabbed by the handle on my camera bag from behind. Jason threw a punch at the guy and we tried to run but I was grabbed again, this time by the throat and held against against a wall as two men wrestled Jason to the ground. We were marched to the frontline of police by the undercover officers, I was desperately trying to get my International Federation of Journalists press card out of my back pocket and was shouting “press press!”. We were thrown in front of someone senior and begged for our release, aware that this could go very badly for us.

The commander decided to release us under orders to leave the country immediately and seized the memory cards from our cameras, but we had already switched the cards and he took empty ones. We considered this a lucky escape and headed back toward to our first floor hotel room on Tahrir Square, hoping this would be a safer option to keep documenting this revolution. It turned out it was not, as ricochets struck the window sill and sniper fire narrowly missed us.

Covering the moment when people collectively forgot their fear and stood up to a barbaric regime was exhilarating, what a moment in history to witness. We were largely welcomed by the crowds as British press, people were so keen for their stories to be told and the revolution to be televised. Mubarak had other plans, this was a Twitter revolution, social media democratised and organised the protests. The regime pulled the plug on the internet and phone networks.

We hooked up with Egyptian journalists from the local syndicate and had 24h support from the National Union of Journalists legal department. Thankfully we were also helped out by a UK colleague who allowed us to used the WiFi in his hotel every morning.

Protests raged every day with battles on the streets. Our hostel was situated where the tanks were stationed, across from the museum with snipers on the roof and a torture chamber in the basement. The torture of choice was to pump up the testicles with water until they burst. I didn’t get much sleep. The constant fire fights and threat of the secret police coming for us was ever present. We left the windows wide open because we didn’t want glass shattering on us and we soaked a blanket will water in case we were firebombed. We slept in gas masks or had them by our side.

Our first trip out to Mohammed Mahmoud Street (as it was renamed), was a baptism of fire. A man stood in front of us waving his arms in the air shouting “sniper, sniper”, blocking us from the bullets, we had to zig-zag out and regroup. The bravery and selflessness of people we encountered was an real inspiration.

We filmed people being carried off the street clutching the backs of their heads with blood pouring down their necks. The side street mosques opened their doors to the wounded and as we documented, quickly became mortuary’s. With shock, grief and panic across everyone’s faces.

Facebook was fairly new as a social media platform and our colleagues used it to check in on a photographer’s site, to make sure people were safe and well. We also set up emergency texts in case we were apprehended. An agency colleague sent us one of these and we engaged the appropriate people. It turns out he was bundled into a car, blindfolded and mock executioned. Thankfully he was released.

One event that especially scarred me was in Tahrir Square on 30th January, it was dusk and people were milling around. Opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei swept into the Square with a tightly packed crowd around him. I was separated from my colleagues and found myself crushed so badly I couldn’t move. My arms were above my head holding my camera and men around my began to grope me everywhere, inside my clothing, my breasts, inside my underwear. I was in panic mode, I couldn’t move to defend myself, flashing through my mind was that I would be striped, raped, beaten or crushed to death.

I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t shout for help for fear of attracting more of the mob. It felt like a coordinated attack. In a moment I saw a gap in the crowd and managed to dodge, swerve and push my way past the grabbing hands. I was shaken and hyperventilating when I found my colleagues. One said he had witness the assault but couldn’t get to me through the crowds.

At the time I deliberated and struggled with the idea of publishing what had happened to me. I wrote an article and sent a draft to trusted friends and colleagues. The feeling from some was that this would distract from the revolution. I chose not to publish, which was wrong in retrospect, I didn’t want to become the story. But when subsequently other women were attacked, horrifically, including TV presenter Lara Logan, I was hit with such a wave of guilt, that I could have done something to warn others, to prevent this from happening haunted me. The image of a woman being dragged through the streets with her light blue underwear is still etched in my dreams.

We encountered other atrocities, during the battle outside the museum where camels were deployed, we were run off the street by a mob brandishing machetes. We got away but a women following us was bludgeoned and hacked to death at our hotel door.

We hired a cinema in Bermondsey when we returned home to showcase people’s work documenting the revolution. We raised money for the family of an Egyptian colleague who had been killed. We passed union motions against the politically motivated targeting of women journalists and engaged the support of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, which has been invaluable and hopefully made our colleagues more trauma aware and resilient.

I still reflect on the Egyptian Uprising with an array of different emotions. It has meant dealing with chronic anxiety, a fear of large crowds and confined spaces, also working at night.
But I will never regret bearing witness to the mass revolt and people feeling their power.

Jess Hurd

Check out more:

Egyptian Uprising photos

Jason N. Parkinson Archive

Mad Dogs, Photographers & the Midday Sun

Photographer at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Infinity Pool, luxury 5* Hotel. Singapore. © Jess Hurd/ Tel: 01789-262151/07831-121483   NUJ recommended terms & conditions apply. Moral rights asserted under Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988. Credit is required. No part of this photo to be stored, reproduced, manipulated or transmitted by any means without permission.

Photographer with sun protective gear at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Infinity Pool, luxury 5* Hotel. Singapore.
© Jess Hurd/

Press photographers amass a vast array of protective gear over the years. I am on my third helmet and forth gas mask. I have a kitchen cupboard devoted to safety kit; eye wash, water filtration, mosquito nets and glow sticks.

Equipment varies from job-to-job, meaning you never know when you might need a spare tampon to pack a bullet wound or some Vicks Vaporub to combat the stench of rotting bodies in an earthquake zone (thanks for that tip Mr. Upton).

I have completed Hostile Environment Training, Public Order and First Aid courses. I am good at risk assessments and having exit strategies. But nothing prepared me for what I faced last year – skin cancer.

After delaying my visit to the doctor because of other work/life traumas I was initially treated by my GP with a topical steroid cream for a skin fungus. When that failed to clear up my sore patches I was fast tracked for biopsies via the Dermatology Department at the Royal London Hospital.

I found myself in a waiting room surrounded by elderly people, dressings patched up their seeping wounds. I was pretty much half the age of most of the patients.

It was frankly quite a shock when I was told that the lesion on my chest was a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), not an aggressive cancer, but cancer non-the-less. Being diagnosed was surreal. You keep repeating it in your head, “I’ve got cancer”, not quite comprehending it. I was asked to strip down to my underwear to be examined and told that my proliferation of freckles on my back were also a tell-tale sign of sun damage.

I had a second lesion on my forehead, a premalignant actinic keratosis, whilst both were due to UV exposure only the BCC was cancerous. The patch on my forehead was sun related skin damage and only a marker of skin cancer risk and was successfully dispatched with a treatment echoing the Victorian era – scrapped and cauterised.

The chest BCC was treated with Photo Dynamic Therapy, a relatively new treatment using a chemical cream that sensitises the tumour cells which are then blasted with infrared light, thus preserving the integrity of the remaining healthy cells. This, I was reliably assured by my excellent consultant dermatologist Dr Catherine Harwood, created less scarring and a better cosmetic finish. Another plus point of this treatment was to be told that I have a high pain threshold, which in my job is always good to know.

Both treatments were successful and thanks to the NHS I have now been discharged. A tough year, but one which I felt compelled to share as a warning to my colleagues who work out in all weathers. The medical professionals that treated me said that I was very young to have skin cancer and the job I have done for the past 20 years undoubtably bears some responsibility. Much of our work as news-gatherers pit us against the elements, whether it involves standing around outside courts or covering street demonstrations – usually in midday heat, when the sun is most dangerous.

According to Cancer Research UK incidents of skin cancer are on the rise. Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form and more common with increasing age, although for young adults (aged 15-34) it is the second most common cancer. 37 people every day are diagnosed with melanoma, 90% surviving 10 or more years. The less aggressive, BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, but still relatively uncommon under the age of 40 but incidents are increasing.

I spoke to Professor Catherine Harwood about being ‘skin aware’:

“Most of the increase in skin cancer is due to excessive UV exposure – especially in people with fair, sun-sensitive skin types – and this exposure is fueled by natural UV (more travel abroad, more leisure time) and increasingly, artificial UV through sun bed use. In addition to sun protection, looking out for any new and changing skin lesions and reporting them early is very important” 

So from the generation that grew up with sun beds, this is a cautionary tale. Treat the sun with the respect it deserves. An effective pill to end sunburn has not yet arrived, so find shade wherever you can, liberally apply sunblock or cover up.

It appears mad dogs and photographers go out in the midday sun, but we don’t all have to be scarred by the experience.

© Jess Hurd 2015

Originally published here in The Journalist magazine.


Human Rights Lecture


Redacted – excerpts from the Domestic Extremist Database


Jess Hurd and Jason N. Parkinson with their work – ‘Redacted’ – We Could Not Agree, Q Park, Cavendish Square. London. © Tracey Moberly


‘Redacted’ – a collaborative work by Jess Hurd and Jason N. Parkinson exhibited at We Could Not Agree, Q Park, Cavendish Square. London.

Redacted – excerpts from the Domestic Extremist Database

– a collaborative work by photojournalist Jess Hurd & her partner in crime, video-journalist Jason N. Parkinson shown publicly for the first time at the We Could Not Agree exhibition Q Park, Cavendish Square.

Jason Parkinson and Jess Hurd are well respected, professional, NUJ accredited journalists yet they find themselves sharing a police database with other, mostly unknowing UK citizens who have had information gathered on them in the interest of ‘national security’.

These include activists, journalists, comedians, politicians and other ‘subversives’.

This sinister, secret state surveillance has been going on a long time, but now we get the chance to examine our files, well the sections that the police allow us to look at – we suspect large swathes are redacted.

Often people say “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, but what if inaccurate, subjective, bias builds up a profile of you that is shared with other agencies, you are targeted whilst working, singled out, even blacklisted and assaulted.

This has happened and will continue to happen unless it is challenged.

Secret police, covert surveillance, secret courts, we are not creeping towards a police state, we have arrived.

© Jess Hurd/Jason N. Parkinson

Image with the kind permission of artist/curator Tracey Moberly

We Could Not Agree – Exhibition Invite


Next week sees the opening of We Could Not Agree

Myself and video journalist Jason N. Parkinson are exhibiting a piece called:

 REDACTED – excerpts from the Domestic Extremist Database – (UPDATE)

– a collaborative work of previously unseen content from our secret police files.

Please do come along!

Thanks to our fabulous friend, artist/photographer Tracey Moberly who is one of the shows curators.







NUJ Strike Defends BBC Pensions

BBC journalists on strike in protest at planned changes to their pensions scheme. BBC Bush House, London.
© Jess Hurd/
Images available to licence from
See slideshow here

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