Freelance photographer 'should be freed or charged'

The Associated Press has repeated its call for the US military to charge or release one of its freelance photographers whose been jailed in Iraq without charge since April last year.

The news wire service said yesterday that Bilal Hussein is accused of being a "security threat" though it stressed no evidence has been produced to substantiate the claim since he was arrested 10 months ago.

An internal review by the media group also found nothing to suggest the 35-year-old has had "inappropriate contact with insurgents" in his home town of Fallujah or the wider regions.

Military officials say that Hussein was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions, but that he is not permitted a public hearing.

"We want the rule of law to prevail," said AP President Tom Curley. "He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable."

The appeal for Mr Hussein to be charged or released has been echoed by media lobbyist Reporters Without Borders, which has said it is "alarmed" at the photographer's detention without trial.

According to the Paris-based group, Mr Hussein had been covering events in Fallujah and Ramadi prior to his arrest.

It added that the Associated Press only decided to make the arrest public after five months of talks with the US authorities to obtain his release proved fruitless.

In November, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to the-then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calling for Mr Hussein to be freed.

The group said the most specific allegation cited by U.S. officials was that Hussein was involved in the kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi by Iraqi insurgents.

However the claim has been discredited after the investigation by AP found the two abducted journalists had never implicated Hussein in the kidnapping, but instead, had singled him out for praise for his assistance when they were released.

The CPJ said the military’s only evidence to support the claim Hussein was involved in the plot appears to be photographs of the released journalists found in Hussein’s camera.

However in the same letter CPJ's Charmian Paul Steiger told Mr Rumsfeld that in at least eight cases known to the committee, Iraqi journalists have been held by US forces for weeks or months without any charge or conviction.

In each of these cases, the journalists were eventually released without any charges ever being substantiated against them, the CPJ said.

Yesterday the AP reflected: "They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom. In Hussein's case, Curley and other AP executives say, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him."


1st February 2007

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