Iraqis release journalist after 157 days

By Jim Boumelha

Reporter Florence Aubenas and her interpreter Hussein Hanoun
al-Saadi were finally freed last Sunday after 157 days of detention by
their Iraqi gaolers, following months of secret negotiations by the
French government.

Aubenas, of the French daily Libération, was seized by an Iraqi
group on 5 January while interviewing Fallujah refugees in Baghdad.

In
a two-hour press conference on Tuesday, Aubenas described with good
humour her horrendous ordeal, in particular her relationship with her
gaolers.

“I was put in a cellar 4m by 2m and only 1.5m high and kept blindfolded,” she
said. “I was not allowed to talk and could only get up to go the toilet
twice a day.On the day of their release, Aubenas was told “Today,
Paris”. She said: “We were given new clothes, tea, grilled chicken and
our personal effects were returned.”

They were handed over to French agents.

Aubenas refused to be drawn on the likelihood of a ransom being paid, which the French government strenuously denies.

The
French ambassador in Baghdad, Bernard Bajolet, has urged the remaining
French correspondents to leave Iraq. Most French newspapers and
broadcasters have already withdrawn their journalists after the
kidnapping and use stringers. Only Agence France Press maintains a
small team by “using draconian security measures”, according to AFP
news editor Pierre Taillefer.

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