IFJ Concern as Spanish Supreme Court Confirms Jail Term for Al-Jazeera Reporter

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed concern at the confirmation by the Spanish Supreme Court of the seven-year jail term imposed last year on Al Jazeera television reporter Tayseer Allouni despite the fact that he was acquitted over alleged links with the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

The IFJ says that the decision yesterday is a “regrettable confirmation” that journalists reporting on security issues or on organisations branded as “terrorist” could find themselves before the courts accused of collaboration with violent extremists. The IFJ has noted that his employers Al-Jazeera, one of the world’s leading Arab language broadcasters, insists the conviction was based upon flimsy and circumstantial evidence

Allouni, a veteran and respected journalist in the Middle East, was arrested in November 2004 on charges alleging he had links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. He had been originally arrested in September 2003 but was released a month later on bail on grounds of ill health. The Spanish High court found him guilty in 2005 of collaborating with a terrorist group, but cleared him of being an Al Qaeda member.

“There is no doubt that the seven years jail term is punitive given the nature of the evidence against him. We are surprised that the sentence has been allowed to stand while one of the other defendants in the same Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas had his jail term reduced to 12 years from 27 years,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

“It is a likely consequence of this case may be that media and journalists will be reluctant to follow up stories involving organisations and groups that might be called ‘terrorist’.

“Now reporters will have to think twice about who they are talking to when preparing their reports,” said White. “This verdict could have the effect of closing down sources of information that journalists need to get the facts behind the propaganda that dominates the so-called war on terrorism.”

Al Jazeera, the satellite channel which has provoked much controversy among senior members of the United States government for its critical and independent coverage of the Iraq war, has already been attacked twice by US forces. Offices in Kabul and Baghdad have been hit and one journalist has been killed.

“It was important that the evidence against Allouni be fully tested to avoid any suspicion or allegations that his conviction has been tainted by political considerations,” said White. Family and colleagues of Allouni remain convinced that he has suffered as a result of his interview with Osama Bin Laden, which took place after 2001 September 11 attacks on the United States.