The International Federation of Journalists has called upon the United States authorities to end what it claims is a policy of intimidation of media in Iraq and to urgently review the cases of two journalists being held for alleged security reasons in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
The IFJ has echoed concerns over the detention of Sami al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman, who has been detained for five years without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence in Guantanamo. The New York-Based Committee to Protect Journalists says his lawyers claim the main focus of United States investigators has not been alleged terrorist activities but to obtain information on Al-Jazeera and its staff.
On October 3rd, the IFJ backed calls from its US affiliate The Newspaper Guild-CWA and the global news agency Associated Press on behalf of Bilal Hussein, an AP photographer, who has been held for more than five months by American forces in Iraq.
Military officials say Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, is held for "reasons of security," but AP says they have found nothing to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents and Hussein believes he has been unfairly targeted because of photos he took in Ramadi and Falluja.
“There needs to be an urgent review of these two cases,” said Aidan White. “The United States authorities must produce evidence that these colleagues do indeed have a case to answer and bring them to trial. If not, they should be released immediately.”
The IFJ also says there is a pattern of “cat-and-mouse” intimidation used by the military against journalists, which adds intolerable pressure on media staff trying to report freely from the world’s most dangerous news beat.
In January, American troops in Baghdad forced their way into the home of Ali Fadil, an award-winning Iraqi journalist investigating a high-level corruption scandal. They fired shots into the room where he was sleeping with his wife and children. Fadil, who was working with the Guardian and Channel 4, was taken away and released a few hours later, but video tapes he had produced were confiscated and not returned.
Last year, Majed Hameed, a reporter for the Al Arabiya satellite network was one of a number of journalists to be detained without charge or explanation from the authorities.
Al Arabiya say Hameed has been an eye-witness to combat incidents between United States forces and armed groups in a number of high-profile clashes. His reports have received global coverage. He was taken by US forces to the neighbouring Al Anbar detention facility and later released without charge in January this year.
In the months before his detention several Iraqi reporters working for international news organisations were held for lengthy periods without being charged.
In January, Samir Mohammed Noor, a freelance cameraman who was working for Reuters, was released from months of detention after a secret tribunal found him to be ‘an imperative threat’ to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq. He had been arrested by Iraqi troops at his home eight months earlier.
The IFJ says that the lack of acceptable legal process in all of these cases and the targeting of journalists who are engaged in active coverage of combat incidents raises serious concerns about attempts to frustrate media in their coverage of the conflict.
“There is a pattern of media intimidation that is completely unacceptable,” said White. “Such tactics have no place in any media strategy. They only increase suspicion and hostility in relations between media and military authorities and increase the risks that journalists face.”
For further information contact: +32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries