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One year on, Reuters cameraman remains jailed without charge by US forces in Iraq

IPI concerned at authorities' failure to hold fair trial or present evidence

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 2 September - A year after his arrest by U.S. forces in Iraq, freelance Reuters cameraman Ibrahim Jassam remains imprisoned without charge, and has not been told what evidence - if any - is held against him.

On 2 September 2008, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided Jassam's home in Mahmudiya, 30 km south of Baghdad, and took the photojournalist away blindfolded and in handcuffs. They confiscated his computer drive and cameras. Jassam, who also works as a freelancer for other Iraqi media outlets, has since then been held in a prison camp near the Kuwait border.

The U.S. military in Iraq have not presented any evidence against Jassam and a spokesperson told Reuters that the evidence was classified, but had to do with "activities with insurgents."

Thomson Reuters Deputy General Counsel Thomas Kim told IPI in an e-mailed statement: "Ibrahim Jassam has never been charged by the U.S. military or the Iraqi authorities, and has never had a single piece of evidence or even a specific allegation of wrongdoing presented to him."

Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger added, (also via email): "In a year of trying to get specifics, we've heard only vague and undefined accusations - to me this is unacceptable. It is only right and fair that any specific accusation against a journalist should be aired publicly and dealt with fairly and swiftly, with the journalist having the right to defend himself properly."

In November 2008, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court found no evidence to support criminal charges and ordered Jassem's release, but the U.S. military stated that he represented a "high security threat" and that they had the right to hold him as long as possible under a security pact signed by the US and Iraq in late 2008.

The pact stipulates that the U.S. military must hand over to Iraq the thousands of Iraqi prisoners still in its custody.

"The continued detention of Ibrahim Jassam without charge, a year after he was arrested, is a slap in the face to the US government's stated belief in press freedom, as well as its long-cherished belief in due process," said IPI Director David Dadge. "His detention is a clear violation of his right to a fair trial. The US government must present clear evidence of his involvement in a crime before the court and if it cannot do so he should be released immediately."

This is not the first time that US security forces have detained journalists for extended periods of time without charge.

Associated Press photojournalist Bilal Hussein was detained by US forces in Baghdad on 12 April 2006 and held without charge for two years before his release in April 2008. Elsewhere, Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for six years. The US did not reveal the reason for al-Haj's detention. In October 2007, Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, who worked for the Canadian broadcaster CTV, was arrested by U.S. forces and detained for 11 months at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on suspicion of being "an enemy combatant." He was never charged with a crime. In March 2009, only a few months after his release, Ahmad was shot dead by two gunmen in the southern city of Kandahar.
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