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Iraq3 April 2003

Iraqi authorities accused of contempt for foreign journalists

In a letter to the Iraqi interests section in Paris, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said the attitude of the Iraqi authorities toward foreign journalists who were trying to cover the war from Baghdad and other cities in Iraq was "scandalous, contemptuous and hostile."

Ménard said that four journalists had been accused of spying and thrown in prison for a week, around 10 had been expelled since the start of the war, and now two reporters with the Qatar-based TV news channel Al Jazeera had been banned from working in Iraq.

The restrictions imposed on the way foreign journalists can work were also "intolerable," Ménard said. "Guided bus tours organised by the authorities are insufficient and do not meet the minimal criteria of media freedom we expect."

The Iraqi information ministry yesterday banned Al Jazeera correspondent Diyar al-Omari from working and ordered order another Al Jazeera reporter, Tayssir Allouni, to leave the country immediately. The pan-Arab news channel said it regretted this decision and announced that it was suspending coverage of the war by all of its correspondents in Iraq. It will continue to transmit pictures because of agreements with other TV stations, but its crews in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul are to stop work.

On 1 April, the Iraqi authorities released four journalists accused of spying for the United States and escorted them to the border with Jordan. They were Matthew McAllester and Moises Saman of the New York daily Newsday, and freelance photographers Molly Bingham and Johan Spanner. They had been arrested a week earlier in their hotel, the Hotel Meridien Palestine, and held for a week in Abou Ghreib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Reporter Peter Wilson and photographer John Feder from the London-based The Australian newspaper were arrested on 1 April in Basra with their Anglo-Lebanese interpreter Steward Innes and were escorted to Baghdad, where they were confined to the Hotel Meridien Palestine for "entering the country without a visa." They expect to be expelled, as many other journalists have already. The three, who were not "embedded" with coalition units, had entered Iraq from Kuwait on 26 March.  British and US military police had also tried to detain them.

The Iraqi authorities have also confined seven Italian journalists to the Hotel Meridien Palestine since 29 March. According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, their computers, telephones and passports have been confiscated. The seven, who also expect to be expelled, are Franco Battistini of the Corriere della Sera, Ezio Pasero of Il Messaggero, Luciano Gulli of Il Giornale, Leonardo Maisano of the Sole 24 Ore of Milan, Toni Fontana of Unita of Rome, Lorenzo Bianchi of Il Resto del Carlino of Bologna and Vittorio dell’Uva of Il Mattino of Naples.

Ian McPhedran of the Daily Telegraph of Australia was ordered to leave Iraq on 31 March for "breaking the rules" by leaving his hotel without an escort to go to the information ministry, which had been bombed. He was expelled along with Bonny Shoonakker, a reporter with the Sunday Times of South Africa.

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