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Iraq31 March 2003

Coalition accused of showing "contempt" for journalists covering war in Iraq

Reporters Without Borders today accused the US-British coalition forces of displaying "proven contempt" for the work of the journalists trying to cover the war in Iraq and called on the coalition authorities to carry out an internal investigation into the treatment of the press and to publish the results.

"Many journalists have come under fire, others have been detained and questioned for several hours, and some have been mistreated, beaten and humiliated by coalition forces," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "Furthermore, the information ministry in Baghdad has been bombed twice although, as everyone knows, it houses the offices of the international news media." Ménard said.

Stressing the organisation’s concern about these incidents, Ménard said they seemed to indicate that the US and British forces take little account of the presence of journalists in the field who are not "embedded" with military units. "These incidents show a proven contempt for the work of journalists," he said, calling on the authorities to carry out an internal enquiry and publish the results.

A group of four non-embedded journalists - two Israelis (Dan Scemama and Boaz Bismuth) and two Portuguese (Luis Castro and Victor Silva) - accused the US military police of giving them "the worst 48 hours in our lives" after arresting them on the night of 25 March while they were sleeping near a US unit between the towns of Karbala and Najaf. Although carrying press cards, they were threatened, mistreated and held in a jeep for 36 hours without being able to communicate with their news organisations or their families, who were consequently very worried.

"The US soldiers said we were terrorists and spies and treated us as such," said Scemama, who works for the TV station Israel Channel One. "They want all the journalists in Iraq to have one of their liaison officers with them to supervise the footage they are broadcasting. There is no doubt that this is why they treated us so cruelly," he said. They claimed that the Americans were doing their utmost to ensure that no journalists were able to move about independently inside Iraq. Many journalists in Kuwait have also reported cases of non-embedded colleagues being questioned for several hours, threatened and sent back by the British or US military when they tried to cross the border into Iraq.

The information ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad has twice been the target of bombardment by the coalition, on 29 and 30 March, damaging foreign news media equipment. The international media "tent village" on the building’s roof was wrecked by the first missile that struck at dawn on 29 March. Journalists had left the building less than an hour before these strikes, which could have caused many casualties among the foreign journalists in Baghdad.

Al Jazeera cameraman Akil Abdel Reda, who was reported missing in the southern city of Basra, was questioned and detained for more than 12 hours on 29 March by US forces. A spokesperson for Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language satellite news station based in Qatar, said he had been "relatively well treated." The spokesperson also said the station had notified the Pentagon before the start of the war about its team’s presence in Baghdad. The cameraman and his crew had previously come under fire from British tanks on 28 March as they were filming food distribution by the Iraqi authorities in Basra.

US freelance journalist Phil Smucker, who works for the Christian Science Monitor of Boston and the Daily Telegraph of London, was forcibly returned from Iraq to Kuwait on 27 March by the US military, after being accused him by of jeopardising the safety of a unit by being too specific in the information he gave in an interview for CNN on 26 March.

A TV crew with the British news channel ITN came under fire from US-British forces at Iman Anas, near Basra, on 22 March while travelling in two jeeps clearly marked with the letters "TV." Reporter Terry Lloyd was killed and cameraman Daniel Demoustier was wounded in this incident. Two other members of the crew, French cameraman Frédéric Nerac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Othman, are still missing. Reporters Without Borders asked US Gen. Tommy Franks to order an enquiry into the exact circumstances of this incident.




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