Seven-Year Jail Term For Al Jazeera Reporter “Punitive and Worrying” Says IFJ * CORRECTION


The legal team of Tayseer Allouni today made a request for the Al-Jazeera reporter to be released on bail pending his appeal. He was not released on bail yesterday following his sentence as earlier reported.

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that the seven-year jail term imposed on Al Jazeera television reporter Tayseer Allouni by Spanish judges is a punitive action that could lead to increasing self-censorship in media reporting on security issues and organisations branded as “terrorist”.

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 of collaborating with a terrorist group, but cleared him of being an Al Qaeda member.

“The seven years jail term is punitive given the nature of the evidence against him,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is also extremely worrying that one 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’.”

The IFJ says that reporting from the region is already full of dangers for journalists and 99 media staff have been killed since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“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.”

The IFJ welcomed the decision of Allouni’s family to appeal against the verdict, which his employers Al-Jazeera say was based upon flimsy and circumstantial evidence. Alouni, aged 50, was released on bail pending the appeal. He was among 18 people sentenced at the trial, the biggest of suspected Islamist militants in Europe.

“It is important that this evidence is fully tested to avoid any suspicion or allegations that this verdict has been tainted by political considerations,” said White.

Al Jazeera, a 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.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries