Imprisoned journalist released

New York, May 27, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the recent release of Ibrahim Hemaidi, the Damascus bureau chief of the pan-Arab, London-based daily Al-Hayat.

Hemaidi, who was released on Sunday, May 25, had been detained since December 23, 2002, when he was arrested for writing an article discussing the Syrian government’s alleged preparations for a possible influx of Iraqi refugees in the event of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Authorities denied the report, and Al-Hayat published a statement from the government to this effect on December 24.

The journalist, who is charged with “publishing false information,” has not been convicted. On numerous occasions during Hemaidi’s five-month detention, his lawyer requested that the journalist be freed on bail, but the request was not granted until last week, a source at Al-Hayat told CPJ.

Hemaidi’s release does not mark the end of his legal trouble. Under the charge he faces, he could be convicted of up to three years in prison and fined as much as 1 million Syrian pounds (US$19,500). According to the source at the paper, the next court date is scheduled for June 23, 2003.

“We are relieved that Ibrahim Hemaidi was released from jail but remain concerned that he continues to face criminal charges,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Syrian authorities to cease all legal action against him and to allow him to work without any government interference.”