US military urged to free Reuters and BBC cameraman

Global news agency Reuters today urged the US military to release one of its Iraqi cameramen or produce evidence to justify detaining him.

Ali Al-Mashadani, a freelance who also works for the BBC and the American National Public Radio, was detained in Baghdad on Saturday while he was in the Green Zone government compound for routine checks for a US military press card.

American forces have detained Al-Mashhadani before, although no charge has been filed against the cameraman, who is based in Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province.

The Reuters editor-in-chief, David Schlesinger, said: ‘Any accusations against a journalist should be aired publicly and dealt with fairly and swiftly, with the journalist having the right to counsel and present a defence.

‘Iraqi journalists like Al-Mashhadani play a vital role in telling this story to the world.”

A BBC spokesman said: ‘We were concerned to hear of Al-Mashhadani’s detention, and urge the US military to disclose as a matter of urgency the grounds on which he is being held and what charges, if any, he faces.”

A US military spokesman said Al-Mashhadani was being held at Camp Cropper, an American prison near Baghdad’s airport.

He said: ‘He is being detained because he has been assessed to be a threat to the security of Iraq and coalition forces,’adding that his case would be reviewed by early next week. The military contends that under the UN mandate governing the presence of foreign forces in Iraq it can detain anyone considered a security risk indefinitely.

US forces previously detained Al-Mashhadani in August 2005 after troops became suspicious of film and photographs of the Sunni Arab insurgency then raging in Anbar that they found on his cameras while searching his home in Ramadi.

He was held until January 2006. Al-Mashhadani was also detained for two weeks in mid-2006.

Reuters and international media rights groups have previously criticised the military’s refusal to deal more quickly with suspicions apparently arising from reporters’ legitimate journalistic activities covering violence.

Reuters said today it remained committed to improving communications with the US military to help avoid situations where questions over such activity might arise.

Two Iraqi journalists who were in the military press office when Mashhadani was detained on Saturday said US soldiers suddenly appeared, frisked him and led him away.

Two other witnesses told Reuters not long after that they were outside the press office when they saw soldiers escorting a handcuffed man with a hood over his head.

US forces have held other Iraqi reporters working for Reuters along with journalists from different media groups for long periods without charging them.

In April, the US military freed a Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi photographer working for the Associated Press after holding him without charge for two years.

The US military had accused Bilal Hussein of working with insurgents in Iraq. AP had repeatedly denied any improper links.

No formal charges were ever filed, the agency said.

The AP reported this month that an Iraqi cameraman working for AP television who was detained by U.S. and Iraqi forces in June had been ordered held for at least six more months.

The US military said this was for “imperative reasons of security” and provided no details about any allegations against Ahmed Nouri Raziak, the agency has said.

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