Jailed Journalists Freed in Iraq and Zimbabwe; Reuters Cameraman Killed by Israeli Missle in Gaza

AP Photographer Freed in Iraq after Two Years

Iraqi Associated Press (AP) photographer Bilal Hussein was released by American military officials on April 14, 2008 after two years of imprisonment for allegedly working with insurgents in Iraq.

An Iraqi judicial committee dismissed Hussein’s terrorism-related charges on April 7 and ordered him released, but the U.S. military continued to hold him until its own review determined he was not a threat to coalition or Iraqi forces.

According to the AP on April 9, the four-judge panel of the Iraqi Federal Appeals Court stated that a new amnesty law put into effect in February 2008 by the Iraqi parliament provides amnesty to detainees held for insurgency-related offenses. The court ruled that the allegations against Hussein fall under the anti-terrorist law and are therefore subject to amnesty.

Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Marshall, spokesman for U.S. military detention facilities in Iraq, said that the 2-month-old amnesty law did not apply to individuals held in U.S. custody, according to an April 10 Reuters story.

U.S. military authorities also asserted that a U.N. Security Council mandate permits them to detain anyone in Iraq deemed a security risk to coalition or Iraqi forces, even if an Iraqi judicial body rules that the individual should be released, according to an April 14 AP story. The U.N. mandate expires at the end of 2008.

The U.S. military conducted its own review of Hussein’s detention after the Iraqi judicial panel ruled that Hussein should be released immediately.

On April 14, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone signed Hussein’s release order, stating that the military review concluded that Hussein “no longer presents an imperative threat to security,” according to an April 15 New York Times story.

Hussein, a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, was captured by U.S. military forces on April 12, 2006. American military investigators alleged that Hussein was a terrorist media operative and stated that Hussein’s connections with insurgents were demonstrated by his access to insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces depicted in his photography and by Hussein’s willingness to forge an identification card for a terrorist, according to the April 14 AP story. Hussein maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment.

In December 2007, the U.S. Army stated that Hussein’s fate would be determined by the Iraqi judicial system, according to an April 16 News Photographer Magazine story. (See “U.S. Brings Terrorism Case Against AP Photographer in Iraq” in the Winter 2008 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)

The Iraqi judicial committee may still be considering a separate allegation made by the U.S. military that Hussein had contacts with the kidnappers of an Italian citizen, Salvatore Santoro, who was killed by his captors in 2004. Hussein was one of three journalists taken by insurgents at gunpoint to see the body, according to an April 9 AP story.

Joe Stork, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, told the AP for an April 14 story, “We welcome the release of Bilal Hussein, which is long overdue. … If the U.S. and Iraqi authorities have evidence against detainees they should charge them and give them a fair trial, rather than holding them indefinitely.”

CBS Reporter Freed in Basra Raid

Kidnapped British photojournalist Richard Butler was freed on April 14, 2008 when Iraqi soldiers broke into a house in Basra and rescued him after two months of captivity.

Butler was working for CBS News in Iraq when he was abducted from the Sultan Palace Hotel in Basra on Feb. 10, 2008. (See “War Zone Remains Dangerous for Western, Iraqi Journalists” in the Winter 2008 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)

Iraqi solders conducting a military sweep in the Jibiliya area of Basra, a Shiite militia stronghold, found Butler in good condition, according to an April 14 CBS News story. Gunmen within the house where Butler was held opened fire on the army patrol, leading to an exchange of gunfire and the photojournalist’s ultimate rescue. The Iraqi army patrol captured one gunman, but three men escaped.

Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, chief of the Basra police, gave an alternate account of the events leading to Butler’s rescue, according to an April 15 New York Times story. Khalaf told the Times that the police had received a tip that a journalist was being held in a house in the area. The police subsequently conducted the raid that led to Butler’s release.

Describing his release, Butler said on Iraqi state television, “The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards and they burst through the door. I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time and they shouted something at me, and I pulled my hood off. And then they ran me down the road.”

The specific motivation for Butler’s kidnapping remains unknown. Some suspicions have focused on forces associated with Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, according to the April 15 New York Times story.

Sadr’s group negotiated the release of the Iraqi interpreter who was abducted with Butler from their hotel in Basra on February 13. Negotiations with the kidnappers were also underway for Butler’s release but stalled over the question of how to release the British journalist without leading to identification of his captors, according to a February 17 Reuters story.

Harith al-Ethari, head of Sadr’s political office in Basra, denied any involvement by Sadr in Butler’s kidnapping. Ethari told The New York Times for an April 15 story that a few days after Butler was kidnapped, Sadr’s forces received a message that Butler would be released. Later, Ethari said he received a message on his cell phone, saying “Remove your hands from the matter of the journalist or we will kill you.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the AP for an April 14 story that he was “very grateful to (Iraqi) security forces for the professionalism of the task they have undertaken.”

Zimbabwe Government Imprisons Foreign Journalists

Zimbabwe deported a British reporter to South Africa after subjecting him to eight days of harsh interrogation, and imprisoned two foreign journalists accused of violating a restriction on practicing journalism without government permission. According to an April 8 Washington Post story, Zimbabwe has banned most foreign journalists from covering its recent elections.

The Times of London’s Africa correspondent, Jonathan Clayton, was arrested and accused of falsifying immigration papers on April 9, 2008 as he was trying to enter Zimbabwe through the southern city of Bulawayo, according to an April 17 Agence France-Presse (AFP) story.

The Guardian of London reported on April 17 that Clayton was found guilty by a court in Zimbabwe of making a false declaration based on the answers he gave to security officials while being questioned. Clayton was fined 20 billion Zimbabwe dollars, or about 125 British pounds.

Clayton, who traveled to Zimbabwe after the disputed elections held on March 29, was imprisoned for eight days. After being arrested, Clayton was blindfolded and taken in handcuffs and without shoes to the headquarters of the local intelligence services, where he was interrogated all night, according to an April 17 AFP story. Clayton told the AFP that during the interrogation one of his interrogators began to kick the soles of his feet and then told him to kneel down before he punched him. Clayton said, “Then they tried to make me jog, stand on my head and stand on one foot which I did very badly.”

Richard Beeston, the Times’ foreign editor, told Reuters for an April 17 story, “We’re extremely relieved to have him out. It was ridiculous of the authorities to hold him in extremely unpleasant conditions and hold this farcical trial.”

A Zimbabwe court also dropped charges against Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and freelance British reporter Stephen Bevan on April 16, 2008. Both reporters were alleged to have been covering the elections in Zimbabwe without government permission, according to an April 17 New York Times story.

Magistrate Gloria Takwunda said that the state “failed dismally to prove that there was reasonable suspicion of them practicing as journalists,” according to an April 16 AP story.

According to The New York Times on April 17, the reporters were arrested on April 3 at a hotel near Harare, Zimbabwe when they were swept up in a raid that was part of a crackdown following the March 29 national elections.

Bearak and Bevan were released on bail on April 7. However, they were not allowed to leave the country until the court issued its ruling.

According to an April 17 New York Times story, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said of Bearak, “His only offense was honest journalism, telling Zimbabwe’s story at a time of tormented transition. He had no intention of becoming part of that story.”

In an April 27 New York Times story, Bearak described the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention. Because most Western reporters are denied entry to Zimbabwe, Bearak said he posed as a tourist when he entered the country. Usually, he left his laptop in Johannesburg, South Africa, threw away his notes each night after e-mailing their contents to himself at an Internet cafe, and wrote stories only in Johannesburg, Bearak said. But during the elections, when he was required to file daily stories, he needed to work on his laptop from his hotel room. When the police raided his hotel in Harare, Bearak said they found his notes on his desk and stories on his laptop.

Ultimately, Bearak was released on bail after a hearing in which the police were unable to provide sufficient evidence that he was working as a journalist. Bearak wrote in the April 27 story that the police presented as evidence against him a story found on his desk that was written by another New York Times reporter and published in 1989. After being released, Bearak and Bevan crossed the border into Zambia to avoid being rearrested by the government. Bearak’s lengthy account of his arrest and imprisonment is available on the New York Times Web site at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/world/africa/27bearak.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5070&en=4e12de95e582e3c5&ex=1209960000&emc=eta1.

Reuters Cameraman Killed in Gaza

Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was killed by metal darts from an exploding missile on April 16, 2008 in the Gaza Strip after stepping out of his car to film an Israeli tank approximately 1,000 yards away.

The three inch-long metal spikes, or “flechettes,” found in Shana’s body are consistent with darts that are sprayed from the flechette missile used by Israel in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army has denied responsibility for firing the shot that killed Shana, a Palestinian journalist, who was wearing body armor labeled “PRESS” when he was killed, according to an April 17 Reuters story.

Footage recovered from Shana’s video camera shows the tank he was filming opening fire. Two seconds later, with dust rising up from the tank’s gun, the tape goes blank, presumably at the moment Shana was shot, according to an April 16 Reuters story.

Shana’s soundman, Wafa Abu Mizyed, was wounded, and two teenage bystanders were killed in the incident.

On April 16, fighting in the Gaza strip left 17 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers dead, according to Reuters. Shana’s crew had been sent to cover the violence and was riding in an unarmored sport utility vehicle labeled “TV” and “Press.” It stopped on a back road in sight of the Israeli tank in order to film.

An Israeli military official told Reuters that it could not confirm that a tank had fired at Shana, and it could not comment on the type of weaponry used.

“It should be emphasized that the area in which the cameraman was hurt is an area in which ongoing fighting against armed, extreme and dangerous terrorist organizations occurs on a daily basis,” said the military official. “The presence of media, photographers and other uninvolved individuals in areas of warfare is extremely dangerous and poses a threat to their lives.”

Reuters, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Paris-based free press advocacy group Reporters sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders, or RSF) called for an investigation by the Israeli army, which has defended the use of flechette missiles in Gaza in response to complaints by human rights activists, including groups like Human Rights Watch. In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it would not ban the use of flechette missiles by the Israeli army because they are not illegal under international law.

“We and the military must work together urgently to understand why this tragedy took place and how similar incidents can be avoided in the future,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters, according to an April 17 Reuters story.

– Amba Datta
Silha Research Assistant

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