Journalists detained in Libya, Syria, Yemen; 1 dead in Iraq

New York, April 1, 2011Al-Jazeera said today that Libyan authorities re-arrested four of its journalists just hours after they had been released. A Syrian journalist who spoke critically of Libyan government policies was also reported in state custody. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ongoing attacks on the press in Libya, and calls on authorities to immediately release all journalists in custody.

Al-Jazeera told CPJ that they received a phone call on Thursday morning from Mohamed al-Lami, a member of the executive office at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) informing them that correspondents Ahmed Vall Ould Addin and Lotfi al-Messaoudi, and cameramen Kamel Atalua and Ammar al-Hamdan had been released from custody. In a telephone interview with Tunisian radio station Jawhara FM, al-Messaoudi confirmed the news of the release and stated that the journalists were safe and have been treated well while in detention.

Ould Addin, a Mauritanian national, al-Messouadi, a Tunisian national, and al-Hamdan, a Norwegian national of Palestinian descent met with their respective ambassadors in Tripoli to discuss their situation and their departure for Tunisia the following day, officials at Al-Jazeera told CPJ. Later on Thursday, however, Al-Jazeera received news from IFJ that all four journalists had been re-arrested by Libya authorities. Authorities did not provide an explanation or say where the journalists are being held.

“We call on Libyan authorities to release the Al-Jazeera journalists and all other journalists that they or their forces are holding,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director.

On March 28, Libyan security forces detained Rana al-Akbani, a reporter for the arts and culture section of the Libyan daily Al-Shams, a friend of hers told CPJ on the condition of anonymity. A Syrian national, Akbani is charged with “conspiring with the enemy during war.” On Wednesday, Libyan state TV aired an interview with al-Akbani in which a state journalist asked her why she had spoken to foreign media outlets. She said the outlets had contacted her to ask her impressions of the unfolding events in Libya.

At least six local journalists who spoke critically of government policies are unaccounted for as of today amid wide speculation that they are in the custody of forces loyal to Qaddafi. Also missing in Libya is Mohamed Shaglouf, the driver for four New York Times journalists who were held for six days by government soldiers. The four were released on March 21.

Since Libya’s revolt began in February, CPJ has documented more than 60 attacks on the press, including two fatalities, more than 33 detentions, two attacks on news facilities, numerous instances of equipment confiscation, three cases of obstruction, the jamming of at least two satellite news transmissions, and the interruption of Internet service.

In Syria, attacks on journalists continue amid protests. Al-Jazeera reported today that Syrian authorities have detained Amer Matar, a contributor to the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. Matar has not been formally charged. Reuters correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi was released today, according to the news agency. Al-Khalidi, a Jordanian national, was detained on Tuesday; his colleague, a Damascus-based photographer, Khaled al-Hariri, is still missing, Reuters reported. Two Associated Press correspondents were ordered to leave the country today with less than an hour’s notice, the news agency reported.

“We are relieved by the release of Suleiman al-Khalidi but remain deeply concerned about the other journalists who are either missing or detained,” CPJ’s Mahoney said.

In Iraq, another journalist was confirmed killed in an attack on a Tikrit government building on Tuesday. Iraq News Agency Al-Ayn told CPJ today that its correspondent Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad died while covering a provincial council meeting. Sabah al-Bazi, a correspondent for AlArabiya was also killed in the attack.

In Yemen, Abdel Ghani al-Shamiri, former head of the news division at Yemeni state television was abducted on Thursday, according to the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate and news reports. Al-Shamiri was taken last night at his home in Sana’a by what are believed to have been national security officers in plainclothes, according to the same reports. Earlier last month, al-Shamiri resigned from the ruling party and declared his support for the popular uprising that has threatened President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign.

Samia al-Aghraby, a Yemeni reporter for opposition weekly Al-Thawry, has received threatening phone calls in the last week, she told CPJ. Al-Aghraby said that an unidentified individual has been calling her from two different phone numbers every day since Wednesday. The caller has demanded that the journalist write in support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh or she would face “severe consequences,” al-Aghraby said.

In Egypt, protesters prevented a state TV live broadcast truck from accessing Tahrir Square in Cairo and did not allow state TV’s reporters to cover the protest. Egyptians in the square told local journalists that the state channel was run by loyalists to former president Hosni Mubarak and should face criminal charges, not continue reporting. The crowd was protesting a decree approved yesterday by the Egyptian cabinet that criminalizes strikes, protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins that interrupt private- or state-owned businesses.

Editor’s note: The original text of this alert has been modified in the first and sixth paragraphs to clarify the status of journalist Rana al-Akbani, who is believed to be in Libyan state custody, and the status of six Libyan journalists whose whereabouts are not clear.