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US military releases AP photographer Bilal Hussein after 735 days in detention

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders hails the long-awaiting release on 16 April 2008 of Iraqi journalist Bilal Hussein, a photographer with the Associated Press news agency, who had been held by the US military in Iraq since 12 April 2006 on suspicion of terrorist links.

"Hussein's release is very good news but it comes after two years of unjustified detention," the press freedom organisation said. "He was deprived of his freedom on the basis of baseless allegations. We regret the slowness with which the US authorities investigated this case and the lack of transparency surrounding it."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We urge US authorities to follow up Hussein's release by freeing Sudanese journalist Sami Al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba since 2002, and Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, who has been held at a US airbase in Afghanistan for the past five months."

Hussein was released from Camp Cropper, a camp located near Baghdad airport that is used as a detention centre by the US-led coalition forces. Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the camp's deputy commander, announced two days ago that Hussein would be freed. "After the action by the Iraqi judicial committees, we reviewed the circumstances of Hussein's detention and determined that he no longer presents an imperative threat to security," Stone said.

On 13 April, an Iraqi judicial commission dismissed allegations that Hussein was involved in a kidnapping. According to the Associated Press, Hussein was one of several journalists who were forced by an armed group to take photos of the body of an Italian the group had kidnapped and then executed in December 2004.

On 7 April, an earlier judicial panel consisting of four Iraqi judges ordered Hussein's release under a new amnesty law, thereby dismissing all terrorism charges against him.

Hussein, 36, was arrested during an operation by US marines in his home town of Ramadi (110 km west of Baghdad) on 12 April 2006. The US military formally brought charges against him before an Iraqi court in November 2007, 19 months after his arrest.

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