Reporters Without Borders today (July 31) deplored the worsening attitude of US troops towards journalists in Iraq and called for US Administrator Paul Bremer to explain exactly why two Iranian newsmen, Said Aboutaleb and Soheil Karimi, of the public TV station IRIB, have been held since 1 July for alleged "security violations."
It said confiscations of equipment, arrests of journalists and incidents between the media and US soldiers had increased in recent days.
"The US-British forces must provide convincing evidence that the Iranians have violated security or else release them at once," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. He expressed concern at worsening conditions for journalists and recent statements by US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz accusing pan-Arab satellite TV stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya of putting out reports encouraging violence against US troops.
IRIB's bureau chief in Baghdad, Gholem Reza Kutchak, said his two journalists, as well as an Iraqi interpreter and a driver, were arrested on 1 July by American troops and taken to US army headquarters in the southern town of Diwaniah. They were working on a documentary around Al-Kut and Diwaniah. On 7 July, US soldiers went to the hotel in Kerbala where they had stayed and took away their belongings. The Iranian consul in Baghdad was told by US forces on 15 July that they had been transferred to the Baghdad airport detention camp.
A spokesman for the US-British forces said they had been arrested for "security violations" and that when they were picked up they were not behaving like journalists.
Kazutaka Sato, of Japan's Nippon Television Network, was beaten on 27 July by US soldiers in Baghdad and detained for an hour until other foreign journalists came to find him. He was thrown on the ground and kicked after filming a US army attack in the city's Al-Mansur district in which five civilians were killed in a raid on a house where former President Saddam Hussein was believed to be. His camera was returned to him. "It seems they had something to hide, perhaps the bodies of civilians," he said.
The newspaper Al-Adala, organ of Iraq's main Shiite party, said its Baghdad offices were recently ransacked by US troops.
Four Turkish journalists -Yalçin Dogan, Özdemir Ince, Faruk Balikiçi and Ferit Aslan - were detained for an hour and a half by US troops on 26 July. Their equipment was returned but the photos they had taken of soldiers with a digital camera were erased.
Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Mosul, Nawaf Al-Shahwani, was arrested on 26 July with his driver and held by US troops until the night of 27-28 July. Their film was confiscated. Iraqi police had briefly detained a four-man Al-Jazeera team on 22 July while they were filming protests against the US-British presence. The station said Iraqi police had arrested the four at the request of the US army.
On 29 July, deputy defense secretary Wolfowitz charged on the US Fox TV network that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya were putting out "false and slanted reports that are an incitement to violence" against US troops. The two stations have protested against the accusations.
A report called "The Iraqi media three months after the war : a new but fragile freedom" published by Reporters Without Borders on 23 July, expressed concern about possible misuse of the June order by US Administrator Bremer about "inimical media activity."
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