New York, August 21, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of a Reuters cameraman held by U.S. forces in Iraq for three weeks without charge, and it calls on the military to charge or release an Associated Press journalist who has been held since June.
Ali al-Mashhadani, 39, was freed today, Reuters reported. He had been arrested on July 29 in Baghdad by U.S. military forces while he was in the Green Zone to renew his press card and was detained in Camp Cropper near Baghdad’s airport, Reuters reported.
Al-Mashhadani, based in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in western Iraq, also works as a freelancer for the BBC and the Washington-based National Public Radio.
“We welcome the overdue release of our colleague but remain troubled that open-ended detentions of Iraqi journalists by the U.S. military are continuing,” said Joel Campagna, CPJ’s Middle East program coordinator.
Both Reuters and the BBC welcomed al-Mashhadani’s release, but expressed concern that U.S. forces didn’t provide any explanation for his detention. Al-Mashhadani was not immediately available for comment on his release or his time in custody.
A spokeswoman for the Multi-National Forces-Iraq told CPJ in early August that al-Mashhadani was being held because he posed a security risk and that his case would be reviewed within a seven-day period that began on July 29. On Wednesday, when CPJ contacted the Multi-National Forces-Iraq to ask about al-Mashhadani’s case, a spokesman said, “The journalist is continuing to be held as an investigation into his being a security risk is evaluated. When the investigation is complete the journalist will be charged or released.”
Al-Mashhadani has a history of being held by U.S. forces without facing charges.
U.S. forces held al-Mashhadani for five months beginning in August 2005. Al-Mashhadani was picked up in a general sweep of a Ramadi neighborhood by U.S. Marines who became suspicious after seeing pictures on his cameras. In May 2006, al-Mashhadani was held for 12 days at a U.S. base in his hometown of Ramadi. He was initially detained while trying to recover cell phones that were confiscated from him a week earlier, Reuters reported at the time.
In each of the two earlier cases, no wrongdoing was substantiated and U.S. military officials never disclosed any evidence to justify the detention, CPJ research shows.
CPJ also calls on the U.S. military to free Ahmed Nouri Raziak, an AP cameraman arrested at his home in Tikrit on June 4. Raziak, initially taken to Camp Cropper, is still being held without charge.
In July, a U.S. military review board ordered Raziak held for at least six more months for “imperative reasons of security,” but has not disclosed any specific allegations against him or provided any evidence as to why he is considered a security risk
“The U.S. military continues to flout basic due process norms and hinder the work of local journalists,” Campagna said. “U.S. forces should either charge or free Raziak immediately.”
CPJ has documented several cases of Iraqi journalists who have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction. All were released without any charges being substantiated. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was held for two years based on vague and unsubstantiated accusations that he collaborated with Iraqi insurgents. Hussein was freed in April 2008.