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Foreign journalists banned from town where Bin Laden was living

(RSF/IFEX) - 19 September 2011 - Reporters Without Borders condemns the continuing limitations placed on the movement of journalists desiring access to or working in Abbottabad, the town in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces on 2 May.

The authorities have stepped up restrictions on access to Abbottabad for the media. Foreign journalists now need a special permit to visit the town. A range of pretexts are used to obstruct the work of local journalists, who ought to be able to move about freely.

"It is deplorable that an entire town has been placed under what is, in effect, a state of emergency and journalists' movements are being restricted on the pretext of protecting the confidentiality of the official investigation into Osama bin Laden's death," Reporters Without Borders said.

"We urge the authorities to guarantee the right of journalists to do their work, as this is essential for a free press. While certain restrictions on access may be necessary, a lack of transparency will cast doubt on the credibility of the investigation's findings when they are released. These bans are a form of censorship."

In one of the latest incidents, Muhammad Ihsan Khan, a journalist working for Deewa Radio, a US-based station broadcasting in the Pashto language, was punched and kicked by unidentified individuals near the perimeter wall of the compound where Bin Laden was living. Khan had come to cover a visit by the judicial commission that the government appointed to investigate the intervention of the US special forces.

Two France 24 journalists, Noémie Karine Géraldine LeHouelleur and Olivier Joulie, were arrested near the Bin Laden compound on 7 September and were questioned at Mirpur police station for six hours by police and members of the Federal Investigation Agency for "travelling without valid documents." Joulie did not have the required special permit.

The journalists, who said they were just taking photos for a report on the popularity of the French language in Abbottabad, were not released until they had signed a written apology. The photos they had taken were deleted from their cameras.

A journalist with China Television, identified only as Mr. Chan, and two Pakistani journalists, Saad Gul and Mohammad Bilal, were arrested on 8 September while approaching the Bin Laden compound. The two local journalists were taken to Nawan Sher police station while Chan, who did not have an Abbottabad permit, was asked to leave town.

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