The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the detention on October 14 and subsequent expulsion of the European Editor of the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera by Swiss authorities as "harassment of the worst kind" and said that governments should lift all barriers to the free movement of journalists.
"In the current atmosphere, journalists and media staff are being prevented from working normally. Often they are under pressure for reasons of censorship and political self-interest, not security or public welfare," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group.
Ahmad Kamel, Brussels-based correspondent for Al-Jazeera TV was detained at Geneva airport upon arrival last night. He was refused entry, had all of his personal belongings, including medication, taken away and was planed in a police cell for the night, after which he was escorted by police to his airplane back to Brussels.
The authorities claim Kamel, a Palestinian national who has been working for Qatari-based Al-Jazeera for 6 years, did not have a visa, but he travelled on the advice of the Swiss embassy in Brussels, who said he did not require one. He has worked in Geneva many times and was in Switzerland to do background research on the upcoming World Trade Organisation Summit in Doha, Qatar.
When the journalist was finally escorted back to a plane his identity papers were handed over to the pilot. Upon arrival back in Brussels, police were waiting for him. When the journalist contacted the Swiss embassy in Belgium they confirmed that he did not need a visa and said that, even if it was necessary, he could have applied for a visa on the spot in the transit area.
"This is a case in which a journalist is prevented from doing his job by officials using bureaucratic manoeuvres to justify unacceptable and intolerable treatment," said the IFJ. The IFJ says that it is impossible not to conclude that al-Jazeera, which has become a world-famous network since the onset of the bombing campaign against Afghanistan, is paying the price for political concerns expressed in Washington over the use of its material by western networks. "At the same time, from Gaza to the borders of Afghanistan, journalists are under pressure from peoples who won't allow them to move freely. This sort of intimidation only serves to increase suspicion, ignorance and uncertainty around the current crisis," said the IFJ.