New York, August 24, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists demands that the U.S. military explain why it is holding a freelance Iraqi photojournalist working for Reuters news agency or release him immediately.
“U.S. officials must credibly explain the basis for the detention of Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani and other journalists being held without charge, or release them at once,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.
Mashhadani, a 36-year-old freelance cameraman and photographer working for Reuters in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, was detained by U.S. troops on August 8, and has been held incommunicado without explanation by U.S. forces since then, according to Reuters.
Mashhadani has worked for Reuters for the past year. He is being held in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, the news agency reported. U.S. officials said he would not be allowed visitors for 60 days.
Mashhadani was taken from his home during a general sweep of the neighborhood by Marines who became suspicious after seeing pictures on his cameras, Reuters quoted his family as saying.
“Relatives said that Marines conducting a routine search of the house turned hostile after viewing images stored on Mashhadani's video and stills cameras and his desktop computer,” Reuters reported.
Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, told CPJ he had no additional information on Mashhadani’s detention.
U.S. and Iraqi military forces routinely detain Iraqi journalists without charge or explanation, and some have been held for months. In May, CPJ raised concern about the detention of at least eight Iraqi journalists held by U.S. and Iraqi military forces because they posed a “security risk to the Iraqi people and coalition forces.” However, no further details were provided about the journalists who included local staff for Agence France Presse and CBS News. It is unclear how many of those eight detainees remain in custody.
Last year Reuters revealed that three of its Iraqi employees were subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation when U.S. troops arrested them near Fallujah on January 2 while they were covering the downing of a U.S. helicopter.
U.S. military officials have voiced suspicions on several occasions that some Iraqi journalists collaborated with Iraqi insurgents and had advance knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. But the military has never provided evidence to substantiate any claims.
In previous instances, journalists detained on such suspicions were released without charge. In 2004, the U.S. military detained Iraqi, Turkish and South Korean journalists after allegedly finding explosive residue on them, according to press reports at the time. All were released after their credentials were established.
“U.S. forces continue these alarming detentions of working journalists without any acceptable explanation, or anything resembling due process,” Cooper said.
“We believe our colleagues are being detained for merely carrying out their professional work. These long-term detentions by the U.S. military are a further unacceptable curb on journalists who already operate under near impossible conditions in the field in Iraq,” she added.