U.S. military frees Afghan journalist from Bagram

New York, September 22, 2008--The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the U.S. military's release of imprisoned journalist Jawed Ahmad from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Sunday, 11 months after he was first detained. But CPJ calls again on the U.S. military to end its practice of holding journalists without charge on an open-ended basis.

Ahmad, 22, was never charged with a crime, and military officials have never explained the basis for his prolonged detention. Ahmad, who is known by his nickname Jojo and also uses the surname Yazemi, does not know why he was freed, according to an interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail. Ahmad worked most recently as a field producer for the Canadian broadcaster CTV and had several other freelance clients in the past.

Ahmad said he was detained at a NATO airfield near the southern city of Kandahar where he worked, after being invited there by someone who said he was a U.S. public affairs officer, according to the Globe and Mail. He was later transferred to the U.S.-operated air base at Bagram, he said. He told the newspaper he was beaten, that two of his ribs were broken, and that he was deprived of sleep.

"We are relieved that Jawed Ahmad has been freed and we wish him the best with his return to work," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia Program Coordinator. "But he has lost almost a year of his life being held without charge and says he was brutally treated by his captors. His case adds to the U.S. military's appalling record of detaining working journalists in conflict zones, without a modicum of due process, based on allegations which are shrouded in secrecy and have apparently proved to be unfounded."

The U.S. military detained Ahmad on October 25, 2007. CPJ publicized his case after being alerted by Carlotta Gall, The New York Times reporter based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had worked with him. A Pentagon spokesman told CPJ in February that Ahmad had been classified as an "unlawful enemy combatant" but did not provide information about the allegations or evidence against him.

A statement issued today by Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Ahmad had been released because he "was no longer considered a threat." The statement offered no explanation for the 11-month detention. Ahmad told the Globe and Mail his U.S. interrogators were suspicious of his reportorial contacts with local Taliban. 

CTV News President Robert Hurst issued a statement to CPJ today. "It is startling that U.S. military authorities released Jojo Yazemi on Sunday morning without any explanation about why he was apprehended in the first place and then declared an enemy combatant," Hurst said. "CTV News is also concerned about his health after he recounted his treatment while in U.S. custody. Our priority now is to get Jojo Yazemi back to Kandahar and reunited with his family."

CPJ research shows that at least one other journalist remains in U.S. military custody. Freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam, who was working for Reuters in Iraq, was detained September 2 by U.S. and Iraqi forces; he has not been charged. The U.S. has held dozens of journalists in Iraq, at least 10 of them for prolonged periods, according to CPJ research. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was released in April after a two-year detention on unsubstantiated allegations of collaborating with local insurgents.  

On May 1, Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was released from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after six years in detention. Al-Haj, also designated an "enemy combatant," was never charged with a crime.

September 22, 2008 9:25 PM ET |

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