Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reuters seeks information on Iraqi photographer's arrest

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Reuters is seeking additional information on the detention of a freelance photographer working for the international news agency in Iraq.

Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, an Iraqi who has supplied photos and video to Reuters on a freelance basis for about two years, was detained in a raid on his home in Mahmudiya by U.S. and Iraqi forces early on Tuesday morning, his family said.

They also confiscated photographic equipment, his sister Eman told Reuters.

Jassam also works for other Iraqi media.

A U.S. military spokesman declined comment on any charges Jassam may be facing, saying only that he is in U.S. custody.

"He was detained because he was evaluated as a security threat, and his case is now being evaluated," spokesman Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll told Reuters.

Mahmudiya, some 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, was once one of the most violent areas of Iraq but security there has improved in step with a sharp drop in attacks across Iraq.

"We are concerned to hear about Jassam's detention, and urge the U.S. military to either charge or release him once an initial investigatory stage is concluded," Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger said.

"Any accusations against a journalist should be aired publicly and dealt with fairly and swiftly, with the journalist having the right to counsel and present a defense. Iraqi journalists like Jassam play a vital role in telling this story to the world," Schlesinger said.

Reuters and international media rights groups have previously criticized the military's refusal to deal more quickly with suspicions apparently arising from reporters' legitimate activities covering acts of violence.

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraqi press rights group, urged the military to reveal where Jassam is being held and to say why he was arrested.

Last month, the U.S. military freed a cameraman working for Reuters after holding him for three weeks without charges.

It was the third time Ali al-Mashhadani, who also works freelance for the BBC and Washington-based National Public Radio, had been detained.

(Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Call for release of Reuters photographer as arrests of journalists increase

If you could take the time go to the site please sign the petitions to free journalists who have been imprisoned.

Today more than 100 journalists are in prison for "crimes" such as revealing inconvenient information, calling for greater personal freedoms and refusing to be censored or follow an imposed line. In fact, for the "crime" of simply wanting to do their job.

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of photographer Ibrahim Jassam, of the British news agency Reuters, arrested on 1st September 2008 by a contingent of US and Iraqi forces in the Mahmudiyah district in the south of Baghdad.

Ibrahim Jassam was picked up from his home in the capital and soldiers took him to an unknown location after checking the ID of members of his family and seizing four cameras along with his phone and laptop computer.

His family still do not know why he was arrested. Jassam had worked for Reuters for four years and had received a number of anonymous death threats.

More than 20 journalists have been arrested in Iraq in similar circumstances since 1st January 2008, all of whom have been released after spending days or even months in custody without any charges being made against them.

One recent instance was the case of Ahmed Nuri, a cameraman working for Associated Press, who was freed on 23 August 2008, after being held for 80 days at the US military base Camp Cropper.

Photographer Bilal Hussein, who also works for Associated Press (AP) was released on 16 April 2008 after spending 735 day in detention.

“We have noticed an upsurge in the number of arrests of journalists by Iraqi security forces or members of the coalition,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “To date the number of arrests in 2008 has already passed the number last year. Simply possessing a camera or a film camera seems to be taken as evidence that some journalists are involved in terrorist networks. We are baffled by the lack of discrimination by the authorities”, it said.

Where he is headed I imagine. Seems the US has no problem locking up journalist or photographers in Guantanamo.

Journalists Release Guantanamo Bay Report
By Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Jul 31 (IPS) - Two Afghan journalists, who spent three years in the infamous United States military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have released a new chronicle on life in the now famous iron cages.

Their 453-page volume in the Pashto language is even more graphic than the one released recently by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan who was handed over to the U.S. military, shortly after it invaded Afghanistan and ousted the fundamentalist regime in 2001.

Titled ‘Da Guantanamo Maatai Zawlanai' (Broken Chains of Guantanamo), the volume describes the extreme physical and mental torture to which the inmates -- mostly suspected Taliban and their allies who were picked up from Afghanistan or Pakistan -- were subjected to.

Muslim Dost, 45, and his co-author and brother Badar-uz-Zaman, 37, told IPS during an interview on the weekend that they saw evidence of female inmates in Guantanamo. ''We saw forms filled in by female inmates at the office of the investigators.''

One of the forms, left lying around carelessly on a table by U.S. military investigators, had apparently been filled in by a woman from Lahore, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, and it showed that she was pregnant, they said.

Dost and Zaman, both journalists, were exonerated by a military tribunal at Guantanamo and released on Apr. 22, 2005. They were originally picked up by Pakistan's military Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) on Nov. 17, 2001 from the Speena Warai village on the outskirts of Peshawar and were taken to a detention centre in Bagaram Air Base, before being flown to Guantanamo.

"We used to publish Arabic, Pashto and Urdu monthlies. Some of the articles in them had angered the ISI, which handed us over to the U.S. forces, handcuffed and blindfolded. We didn't have any connection with the Taliban, but the ISI wanted to settle scores with us," said Dost, who migrated to Pakistan with his entire family 24 years ago from his native Kot district in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Like Mullah Zaeef, the brothers lay blame for many unjustifiable detentions at Guantanamo on the shadowy ISI, which, they said, went about picking up innocent citizens to show cooperation with the U.S. military and also to claim large bounties.

''A father was taking his ailing son to hospital in Quetta, Balochistan, when he was caught by police and asked to pay a bribe for his release. He refused to pay and ended up at Guantanamo with his son. After two years, the son had so transformed that he was talking in English and was unable to recognize his father,'' they said.

Only ten of those ever held at Guatanamo, since its establishment in January 2002, have been formally charged. An investigation conducted, earlier this year by the Seton Hall University in New Jersey showed that 55 percent of prisoners are not alleged to have committed any hostile acts against the U.S., and 40 percent had no affiliation with al-Qaeda.

Military documents, cited by the university, suggested that only eight percent of prisoners were alleged to have been fighting on behalf of any Islamist group, and that 86 percent were captured and handed over to the U.S. military by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan that opposed the Taliban or by Pakistani authorities.

Photographs in the new book were mainly sourced from members of the U.S. forces who took pictures to be sold clandestinely to the media. ''We were happy to be photographed. We knew that photos were the only thing that could inform the world community about our ordeal,'' Zaman told IPS.

''The ISI people, which thoroughly searched our house took away valuables including precious gemstones, worth 300,000 US dollars," Dost said.

''We had not committed any war crime but had exercised our basic right of writing about the ISI's wrongdoings what was fact for which we paid a huge price,'' said Zaman.

A father of nine, Dost says he received his first letter from his family after 11 months through ICRC. "A total of 24 letters, out of hundreds sent by the family, reached us with most of its contents deleted by the U.S. forces in an effort to make us worry.''

"The shortest period between letters from the family was two months. Most of the letters took more than four months to reach us," he added.

''Among the prisoners were real brothers, fathers and sons, who were kept in 180 sq cm iron cages. Sometimes, the cages would be placed close enough to enable conversation,'' said Dost.

''Water was plentiful for drinking and ablutions, but supplies were cut when we protested on some matters. We were made to perform congregational prayers while caged,'' said Zaman. ‘'Trimming our beards and eyebrows, making us strip and desecrating the Holy Quran were other matters that angered us.''

Their testimony corroborates what former envoy Zaeef recorded in his 156-page ‘Da Guantanamo Anzoor' (The Picture of Guantanamo). "So harsh was the torture and treatment that prisoners even prayed for death rather than be in detention," Zaeef, wrote. "Their oppression can never be forgiven."

Zaman said that food was served to the detainees were deficient. Sleep deprivation was another way in which the inmates were constantly harassed, he recalled.

After inspecting the camp in June 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a confidential report -- which found its way to the New York Times in November 2004 -- in which the inspectors accused the U.S. military of using "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions" against the prisoners.

To be translated into English soon, ‘Broken Chains of Guantanamo' is priced at 3.3 dollars and has 64 pictures showing some of the trauma the prisoners were subjected to.

''We have fully naked pictures of the POWs, but decided not to include them in the book to avoid hurting further the sentiments of Muslims," the brothers said.

''We had no link with the outside world. The U.S. army would give us information that they thought would make us worry. They informed us, for example, that Saddam Hussain had been captured," Dost said.

The brothers said that, in general, Spanish-speaking members of the U.S. army were kinder to the prisoners but they were transferred when the authorities felt they had a ''soft corner for us''.

"From the cages, the POWs would spit at the U.S. army men who seemed to be extremely fearful. They would allow us to write, but would give us only refills fearing that we would hit them with them with pens," said Dost, who still fears being whisked away by the ISI.

Many governments, including U.S. allies, and human rights groups have criticised the indefinite detentions and the prisoners' lack of legal rights at Guantanamo.

While the The Pentagon insists the detainees are treated humanely, international concern concern increased after three prisoners hanged themselves recently. "If three detainees had hanged themselves many others had gone on hunger strikes and were alive only through painful force-feeding,'' Dost said.

What he regrets most is that he was not allowed to carry back with him literary pieces he penned during his incarceration. He had translated the Holy Quran and 25,000 poetic couplets.

"We were allowed to bring only a fraction of this literary work. Those poetic pieces were written under a certain ambience, which is precious to poets. Pieces I wrote on Islamic jurisprudence and Pashto grammar were also confiscated,'' he says.

The brothers said a French journalist has offered to translate their book into French. ''But we intend to translate it into English, Urdu and Arabic first.''

Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals had no legal status, the administration of President George W. Bush announced on Jul. 11 that all detainees in U.S. military custody would be entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions (END/2006)

Internet fuels rise in number of jailed journalists
CPJ census also finds more held without charge or due process

New York, December 7, 2006—The number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work increased for the second consecutive year, and one in three is now an Internet blogger, online editor, or Web-based reporter, according to an analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

CPJ’s annual worldwide census found 134 journalists imprisoned on December 1, an increase of nine from the 2005 tally. China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Ethiopia were the top four jailers among the 24 nations who imprisoned journalists. Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist

Print reporters, editors, and photographers continue to make up the largest professional category, with 67 cases in 2006, but Internet journalists are a growing segment of the census and now constitute the second largest category, with 49 cases. The number of imprisoned journalists whose work appeared primarily on the Web, via e-mail, or in another electronic form has increased each year since CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its 1997 census. The 2006 figure is the highest number of Internet journalists CPJ has ever tallied in its annual survey. The roster of jailed Internet journalists includes China’s “citizen” reporters, the independent Cuban writers who file reports for overseas Web sites, and the U.S. video blogger Joshua Wolf who refused to hand over footage to a grand jury.

“We’re at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the Internet a major front in their effort to control information,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world.”

Over all, “antistate” allegations such as subversion, divulging state secrets, and acting against the interests of the state are the most common charges used to imprison journalists worldwide. Eighty-four journalists are jailed under these charges, many by the Chinese, Cuban, and Ethiopian governments.

But CPJ also found an increasing number of journalists held without any charge or trial at all. Twenty imprisoned journalists, or 15 percent, have been denied even the most basic elements of due process, CPJ found. Eritrea, which accounts for more than half of these cases, keeps journalists in secret locations and withholds basic information about their well-being. The United States has imprisoned two journalists without charge or trial: Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, now held for eight months in Iraq without due process; and Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, jailed five years and now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“In Cuba and in China, journalists are often jailed after summary trials and held in miserable conditions far from their families. But the cruelty and injustice of imprisonment is compounded where there is zero due process and journalists slip into oblivion. In Eritrea, the worst abuser in this regard, there is no check on authority and it is unclear whether some jailed journalists are even alive,” Simon added.

For the eighth consecutive year, China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with 31 imprisoned. About three-quarters of the cases in China were brought under vague “antistate” laws; 19 cases involve Internet journalists. China’s list includes Shi Tao, an internationally recognized journalist serving a 10-year sentence for posting notes online detailing propaganda department instructions on how to cover the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The government declared the instructions a “state secret.”

Cuba ranked second, with 24 reporters, writers, and editors behind bars, most of them jailed in the country’s massive March 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the independent press. Nearly all of those on Cuba’s list had filed news and commentary to overseas Web sites. These journalists used phone lines and faxes, not computers, to transmit their reports; once posted, their articles were seen across the world but almost never in Cuba, where the government heavily restricts Internet access.

Eritrea is the leader among African countries, with 23 journalists in prison. These prisoners are being held incommunicado, and their well-being is a growing source of concern. A non-bylined report, circulated on several Web sites in August and deemed by CPJ sources to be generally credible, claimed that three of the journalists may have died. CPJ and other international organizations have urgently sought information from Asmara, but the government has refused to provide basic facts about the journalists’ whereabouts, their health, or whether they are still alive.

Neighboring Ethiopia has imprisoned 18 journalists, most of whom are being tried for treason after being swept up by authorities in a November 2005 crackdown on dissent. A CPJ investigation in April found no basis for the government’s treason charges. Burma, which is holding seven journalists, is fifth among nations, followed by Uzbekistan, which is holding five journalists. The United States, Azerbaijan, and Burundi are seventh on the list of nations, each having jailed three journalists.

Here are other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s analysis:

• In about 10 percent of cases, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to retaliate against critical writers, editors, and photojournalists. Such charges ranged from property damage and regulatory violations to drug possession and association with extremists. In the cases included in this census, CPJ has determined that the charges were most likely lodged in reprisal for the journalist’s work.

• Spreading ethnic or religious “hatred” was the next most common charge used to imprison journalists worldwide. Such charges were lodged in about four percent of cases.

• Criminal defamation charges were filed in about three percent of cases, a slight decline from the rate recorded in recent years. A growing number of nations, particularly in Western Europe, have moved to decriminalize defamation and insult.

• Violations of censorship rules account for another three percent of cases. Burma, for example, jailed two journalists in March for violating prohibitions on photographing or filming the country’s new capital, Pyinmana.

• The longest-serving journalists in CPJ’s census were Chen Renjie and Lin Youping, who were jailed in China in July 1983 for publishing a pamphlet titled Ziyou Bao (Freedom Report). Codefendant Chen Biling was later executed.
CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. The organization has sent letters expressing its serious concerns to each country that has imprisoned a journalist. In addition, CPJ sent requests during the year to Eritrean and U.S. officials seeking details in the cases in which journalists were held without publicly disclosed charges.

CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2006. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody.

Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by nonstate entities, including criminal gangs, rebels, or militant groups, are not included on the imprisoned list. Their cases are classified as "missing" or "abducted." Details of these cases are also available on CPJ's Web site.