Monday 24 September 2007

IFJ Warns over US Detention of Al-Jazeera Cameraman

IFJ Warns over US Detention of Al-Jazeera Cameraman, Calls for International Campaign for His Release

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today issued a new call for the immediate release of Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sami al-Haj, the only journalist being held by the United Sates in Guantanamo Bay, after his lawyers described him in “a serious physical and mental decline,” following a 250-day hunger strike.

Sudan-born Sami Muhyideen al-Haj has been held at Guantanamo since he was picked up at the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in December 2001. He has been tortured and accused of terrorism offences, although he has never been charged or brought to trial.

“Our colleague’s health is rapidly deteriorating and his relatives now fear for his life. The time has come for journalists all over the world to take up his case and join the campaign to get him freed” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.

Al-Haj began his hunger strike on 7 January 2007, the fifth anniversary of his incarceration without trial. His lawyer, Stafford Smith, who last visited his client in July, said al-Haj, has lost 18kg (40lb), is losing his memory and is “fixated on his death.”

Al-Haj has been accused without proof of having interviewed Osama bin Laden and to have been involved in arms trafficking for Islamic terrorists.

The US alleges that he worked as a financial courier for Chechen rebels, and that he assisted al-Qaeda and extremist figures He has been held on the basis of secret evidence; he has not been convicted or even charged with a crime. And until last year the military would not even acknowledge he was in custody.

Boumelha made a special call to British journalists asking them to highlight al-Haj’s plight in the same way they supported BBC correspondent Alan Johnston during his captivity in Gaza adding, “Al-Haj had no history in terrorism and the US authorities have not been able to produce any credible evidence. They should either put him on trial or release him.”

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