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United-States20 September 2002

Al-Jazeera journalist held at Guantanamo
Reporters Without Borders urge the US to break its silence

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders called on US officials to urgently say why they are still holding Sami al-Haj, an assistant cameraman of the Qatar-based TV station Al-Jazeera, at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, nine months after his arrest.

"It is quite irregular for the US authorities to refuse to tell the journalist’s family and friends what the charges are against him," the organisation said in a letter to US attorney-general John Ashcroft (photo).

"It is now in their interest to break their silence in the case," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, "Without questioning why he was arrested, we think this continued silence is especially unfortunate because it could be seen as an intention to harass Al-Jazeera, which has already been the target of US State Department pressure."

Since Al-Haj’s arrest on 15 December last, the station has tried through diplomatic channels to get news of him and obtain his release. It said on 16 September that the US embassy in Doha (Qatar) had promised in June to ask for details from the State Department about his detention. Since then the station had heard nothing and its letters to the embassy had not been answered.

(JPEG) Al-Haj (photo), who is Sudanese, had been working for Al-Jazeera since last October as an assistant cameraman. He was sent to cover the US military operation in Afghanistan and was arrested in southern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. He has sent messages to his wife saying he is being held at Guantanamo. The station said he had lost his passport in 2000 and that it may have been fraudulently used by other people.

About 600 prisoners of 43 nationalities, all suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda, which is blamed for the attacks on 11 September last year in New York and Washington, are being held at Guantanamo.

Last October 3, US secretary of state Colin Powell asked Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, as Al-Jazeera’s main shareholder, to see that the station changed its allegedly biased reporting of events.

A month later, the US military bombed the station’s offices in Kabul, saying Al-Qaeda people were reportedly hiding there. Despite promises to the station, the US authorities have never investigated the incident. Al-Jazeera has several times broadcast video recordings of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden.



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