REGIONS:

PHOTOGRAPHER HELD BY U.S. TO BE CHARGED; 11 RELATIVES OF IRAQI EDITOR KILLED

The U.S. military has said it plans to prosecute an award-winning Associated Press (AP) photographer it has held in prison for more than 19 months without charge for alleged links to Iraqi insurgents, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and local news reports.

Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen who worked as a freelance photographer for AP in Ramadi and Fallujah, has been detained since 12 April 2006. He has not yet been charged or put on trial. As early as this week, the military plans to submit a complaint against him through the Iraqi justice system.

In Washington, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the decision to bring charges now was made because "new evidence has come to light." But he did not say what that evidence was, nor what charges Hussein might face - just that Hussein was a "threat to stability and security in Iraq as a link to insurgent activity."

AP calls the U.S. military plans for a case against Hussein a "sham of due process". Its own investigation into Hussein's case found no evidence that the photographer was guilty of wrongdoing. According to AP, charges of aiding militants could carry a death sentence.

An investigative hearing into the case by an Iraqi criminal court is scheduled to begin on or after 28 November. While CPJ welcomes the military's belated attempt to give Hussein his day in court, it is "alarmed that he continues to be denied due process and that his legal team has no idea what the evidence is against him so they can prepare a proper defence."

Morrell said Hussein, who was part of an AP photo team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for photos that documented violence in Iraq, had previously aroused suspicion because he was often at the scene of insurgent attacks as they occurred.

According to CPJ, Hussein's detention is not an isolated incident. Over the past three years, dozens of journalists - mostly Iraqis - have been detained by U.S. troops.

Iraq continues to be the most dangerous place for journalists. On 25 November, masked gunmen stormed the family home of an editor known to be a critic of the Iraqi government, killing 11 relatives, RSF reports. Dia al-Kawwaz, the editor of the online newspaper "Shabeqat Akhbar al-Iraq", was in Jordan, where he has sought refuge because of the dangers for journalists working inside Iraq. His sisters, their husbands and seven children were killed in the attack. According to RSF, police at a security checkpoint near the home failed to intervene or give chase. Al-Kawwaz had recently received telephone threats from Iraqi militia members at his home in Amman.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/yujkcj
- Al Jazeera: http://tinyurl.com/33ugsl
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24461
- RSF on al-Kawwaz: http://tinyurl.com/2kxkfc
(27 November 2007)

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