British journalist abducted in Basra, later released

New York, August 13, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the abduction of a British freelance journalist in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The journalist, James Brandon, was released today, according to international press reports.

Brandon, a journalist working for The Sunday Telegraph of London and other media, was taken by gunmen at Al-Diyafa Hotel about 11 p.m. local time on Thursday. The BBC reported that 30 masked gunmen stormed the hotel. In a videotape released shortly after, militants threatened to kill the journalist unless U.S. forces withdrew from Najaf in 24 hours.

In a subsequent videotape, the captors said the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had mediated and called for Brandon’s release, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported.

“We’re delighted that James Brandon has been released, but we condemn this reprehensible act,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The targeting of civilians is simply unacceptable.”

Al-Diyafa Hotel is used by many journalists and had been considered relatively secure. The Associated Press quoted the hotel owner as saying that gunmen had shot at Brandon when he tried to escape. The journalist appeared in the initial video with his head bandaged, AP reported.

At least 10 journalists have been abducted by armed groups in Iraq in 2004, according to CPJ research. All were eventually released. Since March 2003 at least 30 journalists and as many as 11 media workers have been killed in Iraq by Iraqi forces, armed groups, and U.S. troops.

CPJ will continue to monitor developments regarding these threats to the media.