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Spain2 June 2006

Supreme court upholds seven-year jail sentence for Taysir Allouni

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its concern about state of health of Al-Jazeera presenter Tayssir Allouni today after Spain’s supreme court yesterday upheld his seven-year prison sentence for “collaborating” with Al-Qaeda. Allouni, who has heart problems, received the sentence on 26 September, when he was tried along with 23 other people on charges of being implicated in terrorist activities in Spain.

“We call on the Spanish prison authorities to take care with the conditions in which he is held,” the press freedom organisation said. “We will also support his family if it decides to take this case before Spain’s constitutional court so that all doubts can be dispelled.”

Alloun’s wife, Fatima Allouni, has said she plans to appeal to the constitutional court to overturn his conviction. The family has 20 days from yesterday to file an appeal.

Allouni, who is famous for interviewing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was arrested for the first time in Spain in September 2003 and was released a month later on health grounds. He was re-arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in November 2004. He was freed again during his trial but remained under judicial control.

26 September 2006

Tayssir Allouni sentenced to seven years in prison

Reporters Without Borders expressed "surprise” after a court in Madrid on 26 September sentenced Tayssir Allouni, a journalist with Arabic TV network al-Jazeera, to seven years in prison for “collaboration” with al-Qaeda.

The prosecutor’s frequent references to the journalist’s October 2001 interview with Osama Bid Laden, just after the 11 September attacks on the US, “makes it impossible to rule out a link with the defendant’s job as a journalist and therefore with freedom of expression”, it said.

Syrian-born Allouni, who took Spanish nationality in 1988, was one of 24 people who were on trial accused of being involved in terrorist activities in Spain.

“If it had only been a case of terrorism, the prosecutor should never have used this interview as part of the accusations”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. It added that Allouni would almost certainly appeal and it “impatiently” awaited a new verdict.

"We also point out that Tayssir Allouni is suffering from heart disease and urge the Spanish justice system to do its utmost to see that imprisonment does not aggravate his state of health,” it added.

Several times during the court hearing, the prosecutor referred to Allouni’s Bin Laden interview. He found, for example, that it was suspicious that al-Jazeera had chosen to send Allouni to Afghanistan. He also wondered why Bin Laden had chosen Allouni to interview him. He considered that the journalist’s extensive contacts with Islamist extremists also to be suspicious.

The defence explained that Allouni had been quite simply the only representative of the foreign media present in Afghanistan at the time of the interview.

Allouni began his journalistic career by working as a translator for Spanish national news agency, EFE, before joining the Qatar-based al-Jazeera at the end of the 1990s. He was named bureau chief in the Afghan capital Kabul in 1999. The network’s offices were bombarded by the US forces in November of the same year.

He was sent to Iraq at the start of 2003, where he covered the US offensive before returning to Spain, in July. Two months later he was arrested and held in custody.

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