United States - Sudanese cameraman Sami Al-Haj begins sixth year in Guantanamo



    MONTREAL, June 12 /CNW Telbec/ - The detention of Al-Jazeera assistant
cameraman Sami Al-Haj, who tomorrow begins his sixth year without charge or
trial in the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is "unconstitutional
and contrary to international law," Reporters Without Borders said today,
describing the detention centre as "one the biggest legal and humanitarian
scandals of recent years" and reiterating its call for its closure.
    Al-Haj is from Sudan, where the press freedom organisation met his family
during a visit to the country in March (see release of 28 March, and
accompanying video of the meeting).
    "How does the US government dare to lecture other countries about human
rights when it does not respect them itself and flouts its own constitutional
principles?" Reporters Without Borders asked. "The supreme court has ruled
twice that holding 'enemy combatants' in Guantanamo is unconstitutional. On
7 June, the senate judicial committee came out in favour of 'restoring' habeas
corpus for these prisoners, meaning they should appear before civilian and not
military courts."
    The press freedom organisation added: "Finally, a federal appeal court,
ruling on the case of an individual held in South Carolina, pointed out on
11 June that the president does not have the power to order the armed forces
to arrest and hold people indefinitely. US law and jurisprudence require that
Al-Haj be set free."
    The Pakistani security forces arrested Al-Haj at the Afghan border in
December 2001. Although he had just been doing his job as a journalist, he was
accused without any proof of being in the pay of Al-Qaeda and was handed over
on 7 June 2002 to the US military, who transferred him to Guantanamo on
13 June 2002. Since then, no charges of any kind have been brought against
him.
    Mistreatment, torture and denial of contact with his family have been
Al- Haj's lot for five years. According to the latest news provided by his
lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith (who was himself threatened by the camp
authorities at one point), Al-Haj tried to assert his rights and began a
hunger strike in January (see release of 6 March 2007). Camp guards force-fed
him in reprisal.
    Petitioned by lawyers representing the camp's 380 detainees, the supreme
court has twice ruled that their detention and proposed trial by military
tribunal are unconstitutional. A bill guaranteeing the application of
constitutional rights to the alleged "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo was
endorsed by the senate judicial committee on 7 June. It will now go before
congress for a debate and vote.
    The federal government meanwhile continues to insist that US laws do not
apply to those not held on US soil, although Guantanamo Bay is territory under
full US control.
    Reporters Without Borders established a system of sponsorship 16 years
ago in which international media are encouraged to adopt imprisoned
journalists. More than 200 news organisations, journalists' associations,
press clubs and other entities throughout the world are currently supporting
journalists by regularly calling on the authorities to release them and by
publicising their cases.
    Al-Haj has been adopted by four Spanish media organisations - La Sexta,
IPS-Comunica, La Voz del Occidente and Colexio de Xornalistas de Galicia - and
six Canadian ones - Corriere Canadese, Atlas media, Magazine de Saint-Lambert,
Mouton Noir, CIBL and Radio Canada Sudbury.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Directrice générale, Reporters
Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771,
rsfcanada@rsf.org

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