FREE AL-HAJ , DEMANDS JOURNALISTS’ INSTITUTE

NEWS RELEASE

Saturday 8 September 2007

Bush’s “hidden agenda” against Al-Jazeera condemned

The Council of the Chartered Institute of Journalists agreed an emergency motion at its meeting today, Saturday, September 8, objecting strongly to the illegal imprisonment without trial of “colleague journalist Sami al-Haj”, and requesting his immediate release. Sudan-born al-Haj has been held illegally by the Americans for over five years at their island prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Institute requests that the Americans either free al-Haj – and pay him “substantial compensation” for his illegal imprisonment – or else that they charge him with any crimes he is alleged to have committed and bring him rapidly to an impartial civil court so he can be tried for these alleged crimes.

The resolution has been sent to US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the US Ambassador in London.

Comments CIoJ general secretary Dominic Cooper, “The continued imprisonment of Mr. al-Haj is a complete disgrace. The Institute understands that his only ‘offence’ is that he was doing his job as a cameraman of the Arab television channel Al-Jazeera, when he was arrested on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border by the Pakistani authorities acting as agents of the USA. He was then transported to the US where he has been imprisoned without charge and without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

“This is at best an infringement of his civil liberties and at worst kidnap and illegal imprisonment, which are both crimes. Those responsible for the arrest, kidnap and illegal imprisonment of Mr. al-Haj should be tried for their crimes in an impartial civil court or at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“If, as a spokesman for the Pentagon claims, Mr. al-Haj was an unlawful enemy combatant, the US authorities should produce whatever evidence they have and let him be tried by a civil court. But let them get on with it. A wait of over five years to be charged is quite unacceptable.”

The institute, the oldest and most senior professional organisation of journalists in the world, stands for freedom of the media and for freedom of speech. It is horrified that the USA, which used to be held as a bastion of freedom and of free speech, should illegally kidnap and imprison a journalist for no better reason that that he worked for its “bête noir”, the Qatar-based television channel, Al-Jazeera.

“President Bush has a hidden agenda against Al-Jazeera,” says the chairman of the Institute’s international division, John Szemerey. “The Americans have bombed its offices in Kabul and Baghdad, and shot or illegally imprisoned several of its journalists in Iraq and elsewhere.

“The Institute will not stand idly by while journalists are attacked, imprisoned, kidnapped or killed.

“Let the US government behave in a civil and democratic way. Is it afraid of the truth getting out? Is that why it objects to Al-Jazeera broadcasting the views of people representing all sections of the community? If it cannot respect international law, it should expect the consequences.”

Adds Szemerey: “If the US behaves like this, it cannot blame others for acting similarly. The US used to criticise other countries and governments for not behaving democratically and justly. Now it is behaving worse than many of those it admonished.”

-Ends

Press contact: Dominic Cooper, tel. 0207 252 1187, email dc@cioj.co.uk

Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), 2 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU. Website www.cioj.co.uk

Posted on by CIoJ in CIoJ Press releases, News

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