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Tom - This week we look at news of media repression around the world as several recent incidents have highlighted threats to press freedom internationally. The Associated Press is reporting that an Iraqi judicial panel dismissed the last remaining criminal allegation against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein on Sunday and ordered him released from custody, two years and one day after he was detained by the U.S. military. The committee of three judges and a prosecutor of the Federal Appeals Court granted amnesty to Hussein, 36, saying there should be no further action on allegations that he may have had improper contacts with insurgents who had killed an Italian citizen, Salvatore Santoro. In December 2004, Hussein and two other journalists were stopped by armed men and taken at gunpoint to photograph the corpse, propped up with armed insurgents standing over it. In the unanimous decision, the panel ordered a “halt to all legal proceedings” and said Hussein, who remains in U.S. custody, should be “released immediately” unless he is wanted in connection with something else. Last week, the panel dismissed accusations under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law. Those accusations, part of a file given to an Iraqi investigative judge by the U.S. military, alleged Hussein had cooperated with terrorists and had possessed bomb-making materials in his house.
Linda - Hussein was arrested by U.S. Marines on April 12, 2006, at the apartment where he was staying in the western city of Ramadi and eventually was transferred to the U.S. detention facility at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad’s airport. The Associated Press said a review of Hussein’s work and contacts found no evidence of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer. Hussein was a member of an AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, and his detention has drawn protests from rights groups and press freedom advocates such as the Committee to Protect Journalists. Throughout his incarceration, Hussein has maintained he is innocent and was only doing the work of a news photographer in a war zone. Both judicial decisions determined that Hussein’s cases fell under an amnesty law enacted in February. Asked about the latest ruling Sunday, the U.S. military had no immediate comment. Previously, U.S. spokesmen had said officials intended to review the case and the judicial panel’s orders before deciding on releasing Hussein from custody. As of Monday, the US military did announce they would release Bilal. Last month, AP president Tom Curley said, “We believe Bilal’s detention was part of a sweep of photographers by the military and was intended to prevent coverage of a part of the war that was not going well.” U.S. military authorities have said that a U.N. Security Council mandate allows them to detain anyone in Iraq deemed a security risk to coalition or Iraqi forces, even if an Iraqi judicial body has ordered that prisoner freed. The mandate is due to expire this year.
Tom - This past Tuesday, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the murder of journalist Khadim Hussain Sheikh in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and called for an investigation of the shooting attack that killed him and seriously injured his brother. Sheikh was the bureau chief of Urdu daily newspaper Khabrein and a stinger for Sindh TV, in Hub, Baluchistan. According to a report from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Sheikh was on his way to the office with his brother Ishaq on a motor-bike when unidentified gunmen intercepted them and shot them at close range. Khadim died instantly. Ishaq was seriously injured and has been admitted to hospital. The PFUJ said it believed Khadim was targeted for his work as a journalist. Sheikh is the third journalists killed in Pakistan this year and the 29th journalist killed in the last eight years. In 2007, eight journalists were killed in Pakistan, matching the number killed in Somalia. Iraq was the only country that saw more journalists killed last year.
Linda - The IFJ is backing the PFUJ in its demand for an investigation into the killing and prosecution of those responsible for the crime. Last week the new Information Minister Sherry Rahman introduced a parliamentary bill proposing to end the ban on live broadcasts and also to scrap punishments for journalists who “defame” the president, the government or the army. Additionally, bans on radio and television news and criticism of the government put in place when emergency rule was imposed in November will be abolished. These restrictions included jail terms and fines for those responsible for live programmes or any publication that the army and the government finds defamatory. Said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White: “Even though there have been improvements in press freedom in recent days, Pakistan’s journalists are still working in some of the most dangerous conditions in the world,” “We hope that the new government will fight impunity for journalists’ attackers and bring Khadim’s killer to
Tom - The Globe and Mail is reporting that a British journalist working for a US television network has been freed by Iraqi forces after being kidnapped in Basra in February, a military official said today. Richard Butler, a photographer for CBS, was freed during a military operation in the southern city, Major General Muhammad al-Askary, the defence ministry spokesman, said. Iraqi state television showed footage of Butler in high spirits and surrounded by Iraqi officials. The journalist and his Iraqi interpreter were kidnapped from the Sultan Palace hotel by eight gunmen two months ago. The interpreter was released days later. Said Butler; “The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards and they burst through the door,” “I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time, and they shouted something at me and I pulled my hood off.” Butler was found during an operation in the Jibiliya neighbourhood, a Shia militia stronghold. Askary said an army patrol conducting a search came under fire from the house in which Butler was being held. One of the gunmen was wounded in an exchange of fire and another captured, while two men managed to escape. In a statement, CBS said: “We are incredibly grateful that our colleague Richard Butler has been released and is safe.”
Linda - His rescue will be seen as a victory for Iraqi forces, who were embarrassed after a Basra crackdown on militia fighters loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr triggered violence last month. The violence spread throughout southern Iraq and Baghdad. Basra has been quieter in recent days, and Iraqi forces say they have been carrying out house-to-house searches for militants and weapons. US commanders criticised the planning of the March crackdown, which was personally led by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. On Sunday, the Iraqi government fired 1,300 soldiers and police for failing to stand and fight. The crackdown pitted Iraqi, US and British forces against the Sadrist Mahdi army, leading to Iraq’s heaviest fighting since the US troops “surge” in the first half of 2007. Last year, 47 journalists and nine assistants were killed in Iraq, according to the campaign group Reporters Sans Frontières.
Tom - Agence France Press is reporting that an award-winning Iranian journalist and rights activist was due to return to prison on Tuesday after being allowed three months’ leave because of illness.. The return to jail of Emadeddin Baghi, who heads a prisoners’ rights group and has openly campaigned against the death penalty in Iran, came just a week after he was awarded a major journalism prize in Britain. Baghi was hospitalised in December with a nervous condition after being arrested in October 2007 on charges of spreading propaganda against Iran’s Islamic system and publishing secret documents. “He is going back to prison today although his illness is not completely cured,” lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told AFP on Tuesday. “The doctors have not been able to make an accurate diagnosis of his cardiac and nervous condition which was the result of prison.” Baghi still has five months of his jail term to serve. Prisoners in Iran are sometimes allowed to serve parts of their sentences at home if it can be proven that they have serious health problems.
Linda - According to the charges, Baghi obtained secret information from prisoners detained in security prisons and then disseminated this information during seminars organised by his group, the lawyer said. On April 8, Baghi was awarded the international journalist of the year prize at the British Press Awards in recognition of his attempts to overcome obstacles and supply news to readers. He was not present at the ceremony. In 2005, Baghi was also awarded a French human rights prize for his work in campaigning against the death penalty. He has been an outspoken critic of Iran’s increased use of the death penalty and one of very few in the country willing to publicly voice opposition to capital punishment. Rights watchdog Amnesty International on Monday said that Iran made more use of the death penalty in 2007 than any other country, except from China, executing 317 people during the year. Baghi, 45, has already served a three-year jail term between 2000-2003 over his writings in several pro-reform newspapers. In 2004, he founded the Jomhouriyat newspaper, devoting much coverage to human rights. But it was later shut down by the judiciary.