The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the news that Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj has been released from detention at Guantanamo Bay after being held by the US military for more than six years without charge.
“The release of Sami al-Haj will make World Press Freedom Day 2008 a truly joyous occasion,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “His case has come to symbolize injustice and victimization of journalists for simply doing their job. His detention was outrageous, his release long overdue, and now it’s time for him to receive compensation for punishment the has endured.”
Al-Haj arrived home to Sudan early on Thursday morning. He was never charged with any crime and was kept imprisoned even after a hunger strike and the drastic deterioration of his health.
The IFJ and many of its member unions have been campaigning with other press freedom organizations for his release over many years.
“The nightmare of Guantanamo is coming to an end but our demand for justice and an explanation of how this terrible ordeal could have lasted for so long will continue,” White said. “There should be a full investigation into why Sami was taken into custody and why he was held for so long.”
According to press reports, the US military had no comment on al Haj’s release.
The IFJ believes al-Haj is a victim of the US campaign against the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera. An Al Jazeera reporter Tarek Ayoub was killed in a US air strike on the Al Jazeera office in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, a killing that has never been properly investigated.
Al Haj was captured by the Pakistani Army on the Afghan border in December 2001 then handed over to United States troops before being transferred to Guantanamo in June 2002.
According to his lawyers he was forced to confess alleged links between Al Jazeera and the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
He was never charged with a crime and until 2006 the military would not even acknowledge he was in custody.
“International public opinion is finally forcing the United States to close down the scandalous operation in Guantanamo, “ said White, “but the injustice suffered by al Haj and so many other innocent victims cannot be ignored. Legitimate demands for compensation and help to rebuild his life will go on.”
For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide