Journalists released after 24 hours in detention

New York, November 11, 2002—Yasser Abu Hilala, a columnist for Al-Rai newspaper and a former correspondent for Al-Jazeera satellite channel, and his cousin, Samir Abu Hilala, who writes for the daily Al-Arab al-Youm, were released today by Jordanian authorities after being held for 24 hours.

Yesterday, Jordanian police and intelligence agents detained Yasser Abu Hilala after raiding his home in the capital, Amman, at around 10 p.m. Officials searched his house and confiscated a laptop computer and some of his files. Yasser’s arrest came soon after the journalist sent information to Al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters about the current clashes taking place between government forces and Islamist militants in the southern Jordanian city of Maan.

Also last night, plainclothes police detained Samir Abu Hilala at the Amman headquarters of Al-Arab al-Youm. The arrest came minutes after Samir had spoken via phone on an Al-Jazeera news segment about the Jordanian government’s actions in Maan.

Both journalists were released this evening after a state security court prosecutor dismissed his investigation into accusations that the two disseminated “false information”—a crime punishable by up to six months in prison under Jordan’s Penal Code.

“While we welcome the release of our two colleagues, detaining journalists because they report the news or express opinions is reprehensible,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

The arrests are the latest in a series of repressive measures taken by regional governments against Al-Jazeera. Last week, Kuwait closed the channel’s local bureau. In October, information ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council threatened to boycott the station because of its hard-hitting coverage.

In August, Jordanian information minister Muhammad Adwan revoked Al-Jazeera’s license to operate in Jordan and barred its staff from working for the station in the country after the station aired a talk show program that heavily criticized the Jordanian government. Meanwhile, Bahrain banned the station’s reporters from covering local elections in May.