CPJ calls on U.S., Iraqi authorities to explain journalist detentions

New York, May 12, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed deep concern about the detentions of at least eight Iraqi journalists by U.S. and Iraqi military forces. CPJ called on U.S. and Iraqi officials to publicly explain the basis for the journalists’ continued detention.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan told CPJ that U.S. and Iraqi forces are holding eight Iraqi journalists who pose a “security risk to the Iraqi people and coalition forces.” He declined to provide details about the detentions or the names of the journalists, all of whom work for Western news organizations. None of the journalists have been formally charged, and Boylan gave no indication that they would be.

Agence France-Presse reported last week that the detainees included the news agency’s reporter, Ammar Daham Naef Khalaf, who was detained by U.S. troops on April 11 in Ramadi, and AFP photographer, Fares Nawaf al-Issaywi, who was taken by Iraqi forces on May 1 while photographing in Fallujah and then transferred to the custody of U.S. troops. AFP said no details were provided regarding the basis for the detentions.

A freelance cameraman working with the U.S. broadcaster CBS News remains in custody after being detained by U.S. forces in early April on suspicion of insurgent activity. The cameraman, whose name CBS has withheld for safety reasons, was taken into custody after being wounded by U.S. forces’ fire while he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq. CBS News reported last month that the U.S. military said footage in the journalists’ camera led them to suspect he had prior knowledge of attacks against coalition forces. AFP also cited U.S. officials as saying the journalist “tested positive for explosive residue.”

Hassan al-Shummari, who reports for the privately owned satellite station Diyar TV, was detained by Iraqi National Guard forces in Diyala province in March or early April and remains in custody. Salah Abdel Majid al-Shikarchi, news editor of Diyar TV, told CPJ that al-Shummari was detained while he and his cameraman filmed a gathering at a mosque in Diyala. Al-Shikarchi said that Iraqi officials informed him al-Shummari was being held for aiding insurgents but provided no details.

The identities and affiliations of the other detainees were unclear.

“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary nature of these detentions and are concerned that these journalists are in detention merely for doing their work,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “U.S. and Iraqi officials must credibly explain the basis for these detentions at once.”

U.S. military officials have often voiced suspicions that some Iraqi journalists collaborate with Iraqi insurgents and have advance knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. But the military never provided evidence to substantiate these earlier claims; in previous instances, journalists detained on such suspicions were all released without charge. In 2004, the U.S. military detained Iraqi, Turkish and South Korean journalists after allegedly finding explosive residue on them, according to press reports at the time. All were released after their credentials were established.