Guantanamo journalist Sami Al Haj wins international award

Sami Al Haj, the Al Jazeera cameraman detained for six years without trial at Guantanamo Bay, has been recognised with a special award from the Association of International Broadcasting.

The group, which promotes excellence in the international media, said the award was both in recognition of his ordeal in the US-run prison camp in Cuba and to celebrate his return to work at the Arabic broadcaster.

Al Haj, who was described by his lawyer in Press Gazette last year as “no more a terrorist than my granny”, was the only journalist detained in Guantanamo and was freed in May.

He has now returned to Al Jazeera to head up a new team that will report on – and build up a database of – human rights breaches around the world.

Al Haj had hoped to pick up the award in person at last night’s event, but had to pull out at the last minute.

An Al Jazeera colleague stepped in to accept the prize – which is jointly offered with the International News Safety Institute.

Security forces at the Afghan-Pakistan border arrested Al Haj in December 2001 while he was on assignment to cover the war against the Taliban. He was handed over to the US army one month later, who accused him of being an al-Qaida operative.

His case was seen by some Middle East commentators as punishment by the US against Al Jazeera for its broadcasts. Al Haj began a hunger strike in January 2007 in protest against his detention.

Other winners at last night’s awards including the BBC World Service, which won two prizes – one for a The World Today report on China and the second for its cross-platform Bangladesh boat project.

French rolling news TV network France 24, which celebrates its second birthday next month, won the award for best TV coverage of a news event for its reports from Burma.

It went on to win a second prize – the AIB Editors’ Award – and was praised for “pushing boundaries [and maturing] into a strong, reliable and inventive international news channel for the 21st century”.

BBC Northern Ireland won the award for best investigative TV documentary for a 17-month undercover look at one of the biggest dog fighting gangs in Europe.

AIB chief executive Simon Spanswick said the group had received a record number of entries for this year’s awards, which are now in their 40th year and are open to broadcasters from around the world.

Another celebration of the work of international journalists takes place this evening when the winners of the Rory Peck Awards are announced at a ceremony in London.

According to press freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders, 36 journalists and media assistants have been killed doing their job so far this year, and a further 136 imprisoned.

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