Archive | November, 2012

Kidnapped, detained, tortured – a victim of the west’s secret war

28 Nov

When Omar Deghayes stepped off the train in Bradford on a cold, wet Friday night it’s unlikely that anyone suspected this casually dressed, middle-aged man with a slight limp had spent over six years detained without charge in the world’s most notorious detention camp.

The broken bones in Deghayes’s nose testify to the suffering in the torture chambers of Guantanamo – torture the British authorities are accused of complicity in.

At the infamous prison camp he was blinded when a guard sprayed pepper spray into his eyes and then used fingers to stab his eyeballs. Water poured from both eyes. Three days later the sight returned in his right eye, though bright light still hurts – an after-effect of living under Guantanamo’s constant, glaring lights.

I met Deghayes, pictured, at the recent launch of No More Secrets, a campaign by human rights group Cageprisoners to highlight concerns that the coalition’s Justice and Security Bill will end open justice in Britain’s courts.

I should have met him two years before at a talk at Bradford’s Impressions gallery, which staged an exhibition of Edmund Clark’s award-winning photographic project When The Lights Went Out, documenting conditions in Guantanamo and Deghayes’s then recent return from the camp. Clark told a packed gallery about the thousands of letters to Deghayes which had contributed to his release by highlighting public awareness of his case. But then he still felt unable to speak about his experiences in public and cancelled at the last minute.

Cageprisoners launched No More Secrets in Bradford too with a special screening of Yvonne Ridley’s documentary Spies, Lies and Libya, which explores allegations that members of the British government were complicit in the torture of Libyans like Deghayes.

His experiences make him sceptical about the official rationale behind the Justice and Security Bill.

“This Bill will be a disaster for the British justice system,” he says. “It makes evidence and court proceedings secret. The government says it would protect the intelligence service – I think this is wrong. This law is more about protecting government involvement in torture cases.”

Deghayes is one of six former Guantanamo detainees who issued civil proceedings against the British government in 2010 claiming it and MI5 were complicit in the illegal rendition and torture of British citizens.

Interrogation documents obtained by his lawyers uncovered blatant disregard for international law and human rights.

But it wasn’t until bundles of documents were discovered last year in a Libyan government office abandoned when the rebels seized Tripoli that the extent of British complicity was revealed.

Senior figures from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group including Abdelhakim Belhaj, currently military commander in the new Libyan regime, and Sami al-Saadi have issued a writ against former home secretary Jack Straw for rendering them to the Gadaffi government for torture back in 2004.

Deghayes’s detention was also justified on suspicion that he was a member of that group. He believes that what happened to them, and him, was part of a worldwide programme that must be exposed.

But the Justice and Security Bill with its secret courts, restrictions on disclosing documents and evidence to defendants and special advocates would almost certainly ensure that it never is.

Government documents state that in 2002 public opinion had “on the whole shown little concern about the welfare of British detainees or the legal terms of their detention.”

British society had decided that Arab lives were expendable in the war on terror. We believed that innocent people could never be accused of terrorism, stripped of their rights and left to rot in a foreign prison without the dignity of a fair trial.

Deghayes’s case gives the lie to that.

His father was a prominent lawyer murdered by the Gadaffi government in Libya.

Fearing for her children’s safety, his mother sought asylum in England. In 1994, after graduating from Wolverhampton University, Deghayes travelled in the Muslim world. He would have liked to return to Libya but it was too dangerous. He visited Malaysia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he met his wife.

“Afghanistan is really beautiful,” he recalls. “I loved my wife very much and I saw the people through her eyes.” They had a child. For a while, life was good.

When the US started bombing the country in 2001 Deghayes had to take his family to safety. They left Afghanistan for Pakistan.

But the US was paying a lot of money for Arabs living in Pakistan. He was picked up and entered the Kafkaesque system of detention and rendition.

“Many Arabs were living in Pakistan,” he says. “The Americans were paying money for each person that was handed over and the Pakistanis didn’t care. We were sold.

“We were locked up in a house and the Americans would come. We would be in chains and they would decide who to buy, who not to buy.

“It wasn’t slavery in the ordinary way but we were like slaves. There was this huge system of trade. The Americans would have to look at you first.

“If they rejected you the Pakistani government would come along and see if you were wanted elsewhere. All of it was paid for. We were like slaves, sold to Libya or Jordan… some ended up in Moroccan prisons to be tortured.”

Watching Spies, Lies and Libya at the Bradford launch was an emotional experience for Deghayes.

“The documentary makes me feel sad that these people and their children were handed to the Libyan government.

“When I was inside Guantanamo this was one of my biggest fears, when they said: ‘We will hand you back to Gadaffi and you will be tortured.’ They said that a lot.

“The people in Guantanamo were threatening us. Guantanamo itself is one of the worst torture places you can get but Libya is worse. That’s why they brought in the Libyan intelligence service in 2005.

“They would shock us under the stress position and expose us to really cold air. Then the Libyans would come in to shock us.”

But Deghayes worries that the sickening system could get worse. He notes that Britain was one country when he left and another when he got back.

“Liberty has been taken away from people step by step,” he says. “When I got back Britain had turned into a police state, with people under surveillance and stop-and-search systems. Muslims are suspects.”

He likens the dawn raids on houses and abusive treatment in police custody to practices in the Middle East, where people find it hard to believe the same strategies are being used in Britain.

“There isn’t that fair and just legal system that existed beforehand,” he says. “I think the change is really shocking and it took some time to adjust.”

He can sleep at night now but has problems. Certain things remind him of Guantanamo. He flinches at the flash I use to photograph him. Guantanamo’s a deep wound.

“Six years in prison has completely, radically changed a lot inside me,” he admits. “Trusting people, impressions, lots of things have completely changed but what I try to do is find advantages from this type of experience and try to use that rather than regret or despair.”

It isn’t easy. But it’s harder still to find advantages in a Bill which will bring in secret courts and an end to open justice in Britain.



Brazilian journalist killed in Campo Grande

27 Nov

New York, November 26, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the murder of Brazilian journalist Eduardo Carvalho in Campo Grande, the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state, which borders Paraguay and Bolivia. Carvalho was the editor and owner of news website Última Hora News, which frequently denounced local corruption, according to news reports.

“The period since President Dilma Rousseff took office has been the deadliest two years for the Brazilian press since CPJ began documenting cases in 1992,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Authorities must take action now to guarantee that journalists can report without fear of reprisal, by bringing journalists’ murderers to justice and breaking the deadly cycle of impunity.”

Carvalho was arriving home Wednesday night with his wife when an unidentified man on the back of a motorcycle shot at him at least three times, according to news reports. The journalist’s wife retrieved a gun that Carvalho carried and attempted to fire at the assailants but the gun was locked, according to news reports. The gunman and the motorcycle driver fled the scene.

Carvalho, a former military police officer, frequently wrote critical reports about the local police and politicians, according to Última Hora News. The website reported that the journalist was authorized to carry a gun because he had been threatened and survived an assassination attempt. Police officials told reporters that Carvalho had been the subject of many libel lawsuits related to his reporting. His most recent story, published the day of his murder, accused an unnamed military police official of abusing his authority to intimidate local citizens. Local police chief Divino Furtado Mendonça told reporters that while no motive had been ruled out, police would principally investigate whether the murder was related to Carvalho’s journalistic work, according to news reports.

Ten other journalists, most of them outside of major urban centers, have been murdered in Brazil in 2011 and 2012, at least six in direct relation to their work, according to CPJ research. Brazil appeared on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free, for the second consecutive year in 2012.


  • For more data and analysis on Brazil, visit CPJ’s Brazil page here.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

In Somalia, BBC journalist held without charge

27 Nov
BBC correspondent Ibrahim Mohamed Adan has been held for nearly a week without charge. (Somalia Witness)

BBC correspondent Ibrahim Mohamed Adan has been held for nearly a week without charge. (Somalia Witness)

Nairobi, November 26, 2012–Somali authorities must immediately release Ibrahim Mohamed Adan, a correspondent for the Somali service of the BBC, who has been held for nearly a week in Mogadishu without charge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Security forces arrested Ibrahim on November 21 and accused him of falsely reporting that a Somali military court had ordered a soldier’s execution, local journalists told CPJ. In his Somali-language report, which aired earlier in November, Ibrahim had interviewed a Somali who claimed his cousin, a soldier, had been executed.

Liban Ali Yarrow, chairman of the military court, ordered Ibrahim’s arrest, saying the journalist was unable to verify the report, local journalists said. The military court summoned Ibrahim on November 17 and demanded that he either present evidence verifying his article or be imprisoned, the journalists said. Ibrahim was summoned on November 21 and subsequently arrested, news reports said.

Authorities transferred Ibrahim’s case to a civilian court today, local journalists told CPJ. He is being held in the central prison in Mogadishu, the journalists said. No court date has been set nor any charges placed against him, local journalists said. Andres Ilves, head of the BBC Somali service, told CPJ that his organization would be investigating the case.

“Authorities are free to deny the allegations in the report but they should not be imprisoning a journalist because they dispute his account,” CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said. “Ibrahim Mohamed Adan should be released without delay.”

While 2012 has been the deadliest year recorded by CPJ for journalist murders in Somalia, there have been far fewer cases of arbitrary journalist detentions or imprisonments than in previous years, according to CPJ research. CPJ documented only three cases of journalist arrests in Somalia in 2012, whereas CPJ research shows there were at least 10 cases in 2011 and 11 cases in 2010.


  • For more data and analysis on Somalia, visit CPJ’s Somalia page here.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

Two more journalists killed in Syria

27 Nov

New York, November 26, 2012–At least two journalists have been killed over the past five days while documenting unrest in Syria, according to news reports. 

Mohamed al-Khal was killed in government shelling of the Hamidiya neighborhood in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour while covering clashes between government forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army on Sunday, according to local news broadcaster DeirEzzorTV and the Shaam News Network. Al-Khal, a videographer, had contributed hundreds of hours of footage to the Shaam News Network, including that of clashes, civilian injuries, and fighting since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, and had also contributed to DeirEzzorTV, the same sources said.

Another journalist, Basel Tawfiq Youssef, a reporter for Syrian State TV, was shot dead outside his home in the Tadamoun neighborhood of Damascus on Wednesday, according to a report by the broadcaster. He had worked for Syrian State TV for eight years and had been kidnapped and threatened in the past three months, the report said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Youssef was killed by rebel forces, according to Agence France-Presse. The report issued by Youssef’s employer said the journalist was killed by terrorists who were linked to Al-Qaeda. Since the start of the uprising, the regime has used “terrorists” as a catch-all phrase for all opposition fighters, according to news reports.

“Syrian journalists continue to take great risks to report on this extremely dangerous conflict,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We remind both sides of this conflict to afford journalists the civilian protections they are entitled to under international law.”

In a separate development, Cüneyt Ünal, the Turkish cameraman working for the U.S.-government funded Al-Hurra, was released on November 17 after almost three months in government custody, according to news reports. A Turkish delegation had secured his release, news reports said.

Ünal had been taken captive by government forces after a blast in Aleppo that seriously injured Ünal’s Al-Hurra colleague, Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin. In an interview with Turkey’s NTV television, Ünal said he had taken his wounded colleague into an apartment building, but left to get help and was “captured by a group of people who later handed him over to Syrian government forces,” according to news reports quoting his interview.

Ünal told journalists he was kept in a prison cell in Aleppo and fed “bread and potatoes,” but was not mistreated, according to news reports. Fahmi’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Two other international journalists have been taken captive in Syria. U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice disappeared in mid-August, according to news reports. Tice is believed to be held in Syrian state custody, according to the U.S. State Department. Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian who has contributed to several Russian news outlets including the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today, disappeared on October 9. She contacted her colleagues a few days later to say she was being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to news reports.

At least 25 other journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, CPJ research shows. CPJ has ranked Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.


  • For more data and analysis on Syria, visit CPJ’s Syria page here.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

Philippine journalists: the cycle of fear and silence

27 Nov

Three years ago, on November 23, 2009, 30 journalists and two media workers were brutally killed in the southern Philippine city of Maguindanao while travelling in a convoy with the family and supporters of a local politician. To this day, not a single suspect has been convicted, though local authorities have identified close to 200. The botched trial has been stalled with procedural hurdles. Victims’ families have been threatened and key witnesses have been slain.

More than 630 other journalists have been targeted and murdered worldwide in direct retaliation for their reporting since 1992, CPJ research shows. Like those killed in Maguindanao, a vast majority were local reporters covering issues of vital importance to their communities: corruption, politics, crime, conflict and human rights. At least four in 10 were threatened before they were killed. One in 10 was tortured.

The killers’ message is clear: Journalists, be silent or die. But the message from authorities is also unambiguous. With perpetrators behind bars in only one of 10 cases, there seem to be no obvious consequences for those who use murder to censor the press.

Faced with these facts, journalists working in countries where their colleagues have been murdered with impunity tend to self-censor. They avoid dangerous beats, and ignore risky stories. Developments corruption, politics, crime, conflict, and human rights go unreported. People living in their cities and countries go uninformed, and are unable to hold power accountable. They are collectively stripped of their basic right to information.

In memory of the Maguindanao massacre and to protest the ensuing egregious lack of justice, freedom of expression advocates worldwide are joining forces on the second International Day to End Impunity. We are demanding justice for murdered journalists, and working to empower those still reporting to do so without fear of reprisal.

As part of this joint effort, CPJ is launching Speak Justice: Voices against Impunity, a digital campaign to fight impunity from the ground up, one voice at a time. Watch our trailer here, and find out more about impunity and how it affects your life. Share the video and help us break the cycle of fear and silence that allows journalists to be killed and their murderers to walk free.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

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