IFJ Condemns Inhumane Treatment and Renews Call for Release of Al Jazeera Cameraman held Without Trial in Guantanamo

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has again called on the United States to free Al Jazeera cameraman, Sami al-Haj, who has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre for five-and-a-half years.

“Sami al-Haj has never been charged with a crime and the US Government has failed to produce any credible evidence against him,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “He should be released immediately. Holding him like this is inhumane.”

On January 7, 2007, already in poor health due to his inhuman treatment, Sami al-Haj started a hunger strike to protest his detention. Al Jazeera said his health has been deteriorating.

Al-Haj was first arrested crossing into Afghanistan with a legitimate visa on 15 December 2001. He was detained by the US military at the Bagram base before being transferred to Guantanamo on 13 June 2002. Since then he has been interrogated over 150 occasions, tortured, and accused of terrorism offences. He has never been charged or brought to trial.

The IFJ believes that Sami al-Haj is being victimised for working for Al Jazeera. According to his lawyers he was forced to confess alleged links between Al Jazeera and the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Al-Haj is the only known journalist held at Guantanamo.

The US claim he has worked as a financial courier for Chechen rebels, and that he assisted al-Qaeda. But the evidence against him is secret and he has never been charged or faced trial. And until 2006 the military would not even acknowledge he was in custody.

Al-Haj’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says there is no credible evidence against him and that, anyway, the focus of US questioning has not been on alleged terrorist activities but on gathering intelligence on Al Jazeera and its staff. The IFJ is backing calls from journalists around the Arab world for al-Haj’s release.

Another journalist held by the US is finally being brought to trial. Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer for the Associated Press who was detained for 20 months, is facing an Iraqi magistrate who will decide if there is enough evidence to charge him with a crime. Hussein’s defence counsel has been severely limited by restrictions that have made it impossible for his attorney to access information that the prosecution has as well as allow private time with Hussein to construct his defence.

For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide