The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the arrest by Spanish officials of an Al-Jazeera Television journalist for alleged ties to al Qaeda members in what it warned “looks like developing into an international witch-hunt” against Arab-language media.
On September 5, Tayseer Alouni, an Al-Jazeera reporter who had worked as a war correspondent in Kabul for the Qatar-based satellite network, was arrested by anti-terrorist police at his home in Alfacar, Spain and placed under police custody in Madrid. He is currently facing questioning, but has been told to present all reports and activities undertaken whilst working in Afghanistan and Iraq and could be held for a substantial period of time. The IFJ is particularly concerned because Alouni is not in good health.
Judge Baltasar Garzón issued an arrest warrant for Alouni based on both his supposed links to the Spanish cell of al Qaeda, and, in particular, due to his links with Osama Bin Laden. Garzón accused Alouni of manipulating his stance as a journalist so as to obscure his work for the terrorist organisation. Alouni had previously covered the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Over the past year there has been an expression of irritation by western, particularly American, officials over the work of some Arab media and Al-Jazeera in particular,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Its offices have been attacked by the military in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq. With this latest arrest it all begins to look like developing into an international witch-hunt.”
Al-Jazeera has published controversial material – from terrorist groups and allegedly from Saddam Hussein, which has been extensively followed up by other media. “This may be frustrating for officials who would prefer this sort of information to be suppressed, but the public has a right to know and hear all sides and opinions. Intimidating the messenger is no answer to the crisis of terrorism,” said White.
According to Ahmed Kamel, a colleague of Alouni, one of the arguments for his arrest is based on an interview with Osama Bin Laden, carried out on October 7 2001, which was not actually a ‘real interview.’ The questions were prewritten for Alouni by al Qaeda representatives and the journalist was also put under severe pressure to carry out the interview with Bin Laden without the normal freeflow dialogue of a real, live interview. Although the interview was broadcast in part by CNN, it was never fully broadcast by Al-Jazeera because of ethical reservations over the content and conditions of the interview.
The IFJ warns that press freedom will suffer if the lawful activities undertaken by journalists such as Alouni are tagged as crimes. “A sinister pattern of unresolved attacks against the Arab media has been on the rise since the destruction of the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera by American forces during the war in Afghanistan, and subsequent hits in Baghdad and Basra during the Iraqi conflict,” said White.
The IFJ is calling on the Spanish authorities to release Alouni immediately, and also on the international community to tighten its efforts to eradicate discrimination against journalists.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries