Press freedom bodies demand Iraqi journalist’s release

Staff Report

PESHAWAR: Press freedom organisations have demanded the release of an Iraqi journalist who was detained after he hurled his shoes at US President George Bush during a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.

Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday said they did not agree with Muntazar Al-Zaidi’s method of protest but the journalist should be released for humanitarian reasons.

Al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadiya television, threw his shoes at the US president as a symbolic gesture of distaste for US policies towards Iraq.

Humanitarian reasons: “We obviously regret that the journalist used this method of protest against the politics of the American president, but for humanitarian reasons and to ease tension, we call for the release of Muntazar Al-Zaidi who has been held by the Iraqi authorities for two days,” the RSF said in a statement. “Given the controversy surrounding this incident, we urge the Iraqi security services to guarantee the physical well-being of this journalist, who was clearly injured during his arrest,” the statement said.

Deep anger: The IFJ said the incident “reflected deep anger at the treatment of Iraqi civilians during US occupation over the past four years of which journalists have been major victims”. The IFJ said, “It is no coincidence that the protest comes only days after the United States refused to release a detained journalist, despite an Iraqi court order that he should be set free. When the US appears to defy the rule of law in Iraq, it is no surprise that journalists will look to other ways to make their protest over injustice.” “This journalist was expressing his own deeply-felt views and we cannot condone his actions,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “But after years of intimidation, mistreatment and unsolved killings at the hands of US soldiers, it is no surprise that there is anger and resentment among journalists,” he added.

The IFJ warned the journalist might be under threat while in detention “given the record of mistreatment of journalists in custody by US forces. The IFJ is supporting its affiliate, the Iraqi Union of Journalists (IUJ), which has called for Muntazar Al-Zaidi to be released and for his safety to be guaranteed.” In Peshawar, the Khyber Union of Journalists will protest today (Thursday) outside the NWFP Assembly to press for the early release of the Iraqi journalist who stunned the world with his action on Sunday.

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