By: Alastair Macdonald, Reuters
(Reuters) Reuters called on the U.S. military on Wednesday to explain the detention of an Iraqi journalist working for the agency, who has been held incommunicado for two weeks, or release him immediately.
U.S. military spokesmen have refused to say why they are holding Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, a 36-year-old freelance cameraman and photographer who has worked for the international news organization for a year in Ramadi, capital of Anbar region.
Lieutenant Colonel Guy Rudisill, spokesman for U.S. detainee operations in Iraq, said the journalist was now in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison: “He will not be able to have visitors for the next 60 days,” he added.
Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said: “We are very concerned and dismayed by this unexplained and prolonged detention of a journalist working for us and urge the U.S. military either to release him or provide a full account of the accusations against him.
“Ali al-Mashhadani is a professional journalist whose work for us brings him into contact with parties in conflict.
“In the interests of the independent media the United States has pledged to foster in Iraq, it is imperative the authorities act speedily to clarify with news organizations any suspicions arising from the activities of journalists working for us.”
Schlesinger also demanded access to Mashhadani.
An account from Mashhadani’s family of his arrest on Aug. 8 suggests that images found by U.S. Marines on his cameras during a general sweep in the neighborhood prompted his detention.
Relatives said that Marines conducting a routine search of the house turned hostile after viewing images stored on Mashhadani’s video and stills cameras and his desktop computer.
Reuters has provided the U.S. military with published work by Mashhadani that shows scenes of conflict and gunmen operating in plain view of civilians. Nothing in his work has indicated activity incompatible with his status as an independent journalist.
U.S. military officials have responded neither to offers of further information from Reuters nor to proposals for meetings with Reuters editors to clarify Mashhadani’s activities.
Journalists for Reuters and other media organizations in Iraq have been wrongly accused in the past by U.S. forces of having prior information of insurgent attacks — suspicions apparently raised by their quick response to news events.
Last year, three Iraqis working for Reuters were arrested after arriving swiftly in the area where a U.S. helicopter had been shot down near Falluja. The three, and another Iraqi working for U.S. television network NBC, said they were sexually and physically abused by U.S. soldiers for three days before they were released after pressure from the news organizations.
Reuters is still seeking access to the results of a military inquiry into that incident. A summary report exonerated the troops involved but the Iraqis themselves were never questioned by U.S. investigators.
A number of Iraqi journalists working for foreign news organizations have been detained for months at a time by the U.S. military and some are still in custody.
Iraq is the most dangerous country to work as a journalist. Two Reuters cameramen, Ukrainian Taras Protsyuk and Palestinian Mazen Dana, have been killed by U.S. troops since the war began.
Mashhadani’s predecessor for Reuters in Ramadi, Dhia Najim, was shot dead during fighting between U.S. Marines and insurgents on Nov. 1 last year. The exact circumstances of his killing have never been clarified despite requests from Reuters.