Alert: Detained AP Photographer has his First Hearing in Iraqi Court

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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14 December 2007

Alert: Detained AP Photographer has his First Hearing in Iraqi Court

Contents

1. Summary
2. Background
3. Action required
4. Sample Letter

1. Summary
AP photographer, Bilal Hussein, who was member of the Associated Press team that won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, was captured by the US army in April 2006 for alleged involvement in insurgent activity. After almost 20 months of detention, he had his first hearing in court on 9 December 2007. AP has carried out its own investigation regarding Bilal’s case but have found no evidence of any involvement with insurgents.

2. Background
Bilal Hussein, a 36 year-old Iraqi, was a member of the Associated Press (AP) team that won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005. He was captured by the US forces from his apartment in Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, on 12 April 2006, for ‘imperative reasons of security’ and was accused of collaborating with insurgents. Two other men, supposed to be Iraqi insurgents, were also captured with him.

Detention

Bilal was kept blindfolded for nine days and was reportedly interrogated 32 times between 12 April and 19 May 2006. He was initially held at a facility in Ramadi but then was moved to Abu Gharib and interrogated for another 15 days. He is currently detained at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport.

According to a report by his attorney Paul Gardephe, he was offered to become an informant for the US army and was offered more salary as well. He was told, ‘Your photos pose a threat to us.’ But he reportedly refused because of his ‘…commitment to his profession, to the AP and to the country.’

Hearing

Bilal’s first hearing was finally convened on Sunday, 9 December 2007. It was a nearly seven-hour closed-door session in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, before magistrate Dhia Al Kinani. Both Mr Hussein and his defence team got their first look at the alleged evidence gathered by the US military against him since his arrest in April 2006. In accordance with Iraqi law, magistrate Al Kinani will review the material presented and then determine whether Bilal should stand trial before a panel of three judges.

A few discrepancies in the hearing have raised concerns within Bilal’s defence team and various human rights groups. For example, the magistrate ordered the court proceedings and the material presented during the hearing to be kept confidential, hence the public has not been made aware of the details. According to Joel Campagna, CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) Senior Middle East Program Coordinator, the fact that the court proceedings are ‘shrouded in secrecy’ raises fears that Bilal will not get a fair trial. Further, according to AP spokesman Paul Colford, Gardephe was not handed a copy of the materials presented as evidence by the US military, which he will require to prepare a defence for Bilal. Also, Gardephe has been disallowed to meet his client in private ever since the US military decided to send Bilal’s case to criminal court. Hence, Gardephe has had to have a soldier and a military interpreter present while meeting Bilal.

In addition, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq is described as ‘unstable’ and termed as a ‘rustic’ and an ‘overloaded’ process, having ‘more cases in the pipeline…than they can possibly handle.’ Therefore, cases are decided quickly and investigative hearings last only a few hours. Trials take place soon after the hearings and the verdicts and sentences are announced the same day.

Hence, Bilal Hussein’s case is expected to receive a similar treatment. Even if Bilal is acquitted by the Iraqi court, the US military maintains its right to keep him in prison till it deems necessary.

Charges

Even though the charges against Bilal have not been made official, Gardephe has presented nine informal allegations in his report and a defence of each as well. Gardephe prepared this report over 40 hours of interview with Bilal in March 2007 as well as interviews with his colleagues and family members.

For example, one of the allegations made against Bilal was that he tested positive for explosive residue, however, according to his attorney, AP has no evidence of such a test and even if they did, it would be very probable as his work involves going to places where explosions are common. Another allegation was that Bilal was involved in the kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi, however, AP investigated and discredited this claim, as the journalists had in reality praised Bilal for his assistance when they were released. Other allegations claiming that Bilal had prior knowledge of insurgent attacks, he provided false identification to insurgents, he had bomb-making materials at his home etc. were found to be baseless by the AP. Instead they believe he is being detained for his ‘journalistic work’ in Anbar.

Attack on Journalists in Iraq

According to CPJ research, Bilal’s case is not an isolated incident, instead over the last three years dozens of journalists – mostly Iraqis – have been detained by the US troops. Most of those held have been released after short periods, however, at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held for weeks or months without charge or conviction.

3. Action Required
a) Write to the Foreign Minister in your country and urge him/her to make efforts to ensure Bilal Hussein’s gets a fair trial.

UK campaigners can write to:

Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH

Fax: +44 0207 839 2417
Email: private.office@fco.gov.uk

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4. Sample Letter
Sample letter is given below for your convenience

[Your Name]

[Your Address]

[Date]

Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH

Dear Mr David Miliband,

Re: AP Photographer Detained in Iraq

I am very concerned about Associated Press (AP) photographer Bilal Hussein who was arrested and detained by the US military in Ramadi on 12 April 2006 for security reasons. Mr Hussein had his first hearing in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, on 9 December 2007, after nearly 20 months of detention. In accordance with Iraqi law, the magistrate will review the material presented as evidence against Mr Hussein by the US military and then will determine whether he should stand trial before a panel of three judges.

Mr Hussein was a member of the AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005 and was based as a freelance photographer for AP in the volatile regions of Ramadi and Fallujah. After his arrest, he was kept blindfolded for 9 days and interrogated by the US military several times. According to his attorney, Paul Gardephe, he was offered to become a paid informant for the US military but he refused.

The US military claimed that they had substantial evidence proving that Mr Hussein was involved in insurgent activity; however, they never revealed it to Mr Hussein or to his attorney until the court hearing on 9 December 2007. According to AP’s own investigation into Mr Hussein’s case, all the allegations made by the US military against Mr Hussein do not prove that he was involved in any kind of terrorist-related activity. Instead, Mr Gardephe has presented a defence to each of the allegations against Mr Hussein in his report. AP believes that Mr Hussein is being targeted because of his journalistic activity in Ramadi.

I am concerned that Mr Hussein will not receive a fair trial in Iraq, as there are many discrepancies related to his case. Firstly, his hearing was shrouded in secrecy and the court proceedings were not made public. Secondly, his defence team has not been given access to the copy of materials presented as evidence by the US military which his attorney needs in order to prepare his defence. Thirdly, Mr Hussein’s attorney is not permitted to meet him in private and they have to meet in the presence of a soldier and an interpreter. Furthermore, the Iraqi justice system has been described by many legal experts as being ‘unstable’ and ‘overloaded’, thus making it very probable that the defendant does not get a fair hearing.

I urge you to request your counterparts in Iraq and US to ensure that Mr Hussein is granted due process and a fair trial and is treated in accordance with international human rights standards. I also request you to ensure that the above-mentioned discrepancies are addressed and removed to ensure that a just trial takes place. If Mr Hussein is not found guilty he should be immediately released and allowed his right to pursue his occupation as a journalist in peace.

I look forward to hearing from you soon on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

[Your Signature]

[Your Name]

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