New York, August 30, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the abduction of two French journalists in Iraq and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

In a videotape aired on Saturday, August 28, by the Qatar-based Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for abducting Christian Chesnot, a reporter with Radio France-Internationale and Radio France, and Georges Malbrunot, a reporter with the French dailies Le Figaro and Ouest France. The video, which was broadcast more than a week after the two journalists disappeared, showed both men speaking to the camera and saying that they were being held hostage but were being well-treated, The Associated Press reported.

The journalists’ captors demanded that France rescind within 48 hours a new law set to take effect that bans the wearing of conspicuous religious attire, including Muslim headscarves, in public schools. The tape did not mention an ultimatum.

Chesnot and Malbrunot had been out of contact with their news outlets since August 19. At the time of their capture, they were believed to have been heading to the southern city of Najaf, where U.S. forces had battled with Shiite insurgents for several weeks.

Today, Al-Jazeera satellite news channel reported a stream of condemnations from political figures, religious groups, professional associations, and political organizations across the Arab world. They included popular Muslim religious figure Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Arab League head Amr Musa, Lebanese cleric Mohammed Husayn Fadlallah, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, Hamas, and various local press organizations and politicians.

“There can be no justification for taking innocent civilians hostage, and the growing chorus of condemnation shows that the world agrees,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on those holding Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot to release them immediately and unconditionally.”

At least 14 journalists have been abducted in Iraq this year; most have been released. Since March 2003, at least 32 journalists and 11 media workers have been killed in action in Iraq by Iraqi forces, armed groups, and U.S. troops.