In Iraq, charges dropped against detained media workers

New York, August 7, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Monday’s decision by a criminal court in Baghdad to dismiss the charge of incitement to terror against 11 current and former employees of the independent Iraqi production company Wasan Media.

A source at Wasan Media familiar with the case told CPJ that the judge threw out the charge against all of the employees for lack of sufficient evidence. Nine of the 11 men were released from jail this morning, the source said.

“We are pleased with the Baghdad criminal court’s decision to dismiss what we believed all along were unfounded criminal charges,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “These men spent more than five months in prison without due process. We hope that our two colleagues who remain in jail are also set free soon.”

CPJ wrote two public letters—on March 28 and June 15—to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling on him to use his influence to ensure that the Wasan Media employees were released at once.

Sources at Wasan Media told CPJ that general manager Shaker Mahmoud Khalaf al-Falahi and broadcast engineer Omar Luqman Mahmoud remain behind bars for a separate charge of possessing unlicensed weapons. It is unclear when they will appear before a criminal court on this charge.

On February 25, Interior Ministry forces raided the Baghdad offices of Wasan Media and detained general manager Shaker Mahmoud Khalaf al-Falahi; broadcast engineers Omar Luqman Mahmoud and Mohammed Jassim Mohammed; video editor Mohammed Qassim Nuhair; cameramen Mohammed Luqman Mahmoud and Hassan Kadhum Hameed; guards Majed Youssif Mansour, Mohammed Kurdi Abid, and Adnan Abdullah Abid; driver Qusai Fu’ad Obaid; and former driver Omar Mohammed Baseem.

The Interior Ministry claimed that Wasan Media, which provides technical support to news organizations, supplied footage to Al-Jazeera of a controversial interview with Sabrin al-Janabi, an Iraqi woman who alleged she was raped by three Iraqi police officers in February. Al-Jazeera is banned from Iraq, except in its northern Kurdistan region.

Wasan Media officials deny supplying footage of the al-Janabi interview to Al-Jazeera, and note that the interview was filmed by several news organizations and was widely available.

The 11 men were charged with incitement to terror under Iraq’s antiterrorism law for allegedly producing footage for Iraq’s insurgency; working for Al-Jazeera; and supplying Al-Jazeera with the al-Janabi interview. Wasan Media officials denied these accusations, maintaining throughout that there was no evidence supporting them.