BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Reuters urged the U.S. military on Thursday to immediately release an Iraqi cameraman working for the news organization or to publicly produce evidence to justify his detention.
Ali al-Mashhadani, who also works freelance for the BBC and Washington-based National Public Radio, was detained in Baghdad on Saturday while he was in the Green Zone government compound for routine checks for a U.S. military press card.
U.S. forces have detained Mashhadani before. No charge has ever been filed against the cameraman, who is based in Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province.
“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 defense,” said Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger.
“Iraqi journalists like Mashhadani play a vital role in telling this story to the world.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We were concerned to hear of Mashhadani’s detention, and urge the U.S. military to disclose as a matter of urgency the grounds on which he is being held and what charges, if any, he faces.”
A U.S. military spokesman said Mashhadani was being held at Camp Cropper, an American prison near Baghdad’s airport.
“He is being detained because he has been assessed to be a threat to the security of Iraq and coalition forces,” the spokesman said, declining to elaborate.
The spokesman said Mashhadani’s case would be reviewed by early next week. The military contends that under the U.N. mandate governing the presence of foreign forces in Iraq it can detain anyone considered a security risk indefinitely.
U.S. forces previously detained 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. Mashhadani was also detained for two weeks in mid-2006.
ANBAR NOW RELATIVELY SAFE
The vast desert region of Anbar, once the most dangerous region for U.S. troops in Iraq, has undergone a dramatic transformation and is now one of the country’s safest areas.
Reuters and international media rights groups have previously criticized the military’s refusal to deal more quickly with suspicions apparently arising from reporters’ legitimate journalistic activities covering violence.
Reuters said it remained committed to improving communications with the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
U.S. 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 U.S. military freed a Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi photographer working for the Associated Press after holding him without charge for two years.
The U.S. 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 U.S. military said this was for “imperative reasons of security” and provided no details about any allegations against Ahmed Nouri Raziak, the agency has said.