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AFTER ALAN JOHNSTON - MEET PRISONER 345

26-10-2007

Sami Al Haj

Last night's Panorama gave us Alan Johnston's chilling first hand account of his time as a hostage in Palestine. Johnson's capture caused an international furore, so David Nicholl asks why the arrest of another broadcaster hasn't attracted the same attention.

Many of you will have seen the documentary regarding the kidnap of the BBC's Alan Johnston for 114 days in Gaza earlier this year. Frankly it is appalling when journalists are put under threat such as this, and clearly the international campaign by the BBC and other news agencies such as CNN and Al-Jazeera was fundamental in leading to his release.

It is now time for a similar media onslaught to lead to the release of Sami Al Haj - the only journalist being held in Guantanamo Bay.

The Al-Jazeera journalist Sami Al-Haj is approaching 300 days on hunger strike in Guantanamo having been in effect held hostage by the US authorities for over 5 years without charge.

In over 100 interrogations by the US military, he has been asked if he was willing act as a mole within Al Jazeera. His lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith reported "I don't know of a single prisoner in Guantanamo who hasn't been asked to be an informant for the United States… the Americans want Sami to say that Al Jazeera is funded by Al Qaeda, that they get money from Al Qaeda to publish stuff on television,"

Last year, I was involved in an award-winning documentary about Sami Al-Haj's detention, "Prisoner 345". I suspect that this is the first and only time City Hospital has ever appeared on Al Jazeera.

In retrospect, the question I asked Abdullah, the Arabic producer, foretold the events surrounding Alan Johnston's kidnap, "Why has it taken Al Jazeera 5 years to do a documentary about one of your camera-men being kidnapped, if this happened to anyone at the BBC, you wouldn't hear the end of it?" I said as they were setting up the camera.

Abdullah's reply was fascinating - "Firstly, it is very difficult doing anything on Guantanamo as there is no visual, it is a secret prison, so this makes it difficult for TV and secondly most people in the Middle East know of someone, a family member who has been detained for often years at a time, so there is a feeling of ‘so what' when what is unusual is that this is the US doing this"

Alan Johnston has written an letter of support for the release of Sami Al-Haj, by way of thanks for the letter that Sami sent to get Alan's release.

It is time that the US authorities, just as those in Gaza, need to realise that an attack on journalists is an attack on truth and freedom of speech, and serves no-one.

Sami should be charged or released forthwith.

Lets celebrate Alan's freedom and fight for journalists such as Sami Al Haj who are still subject to such abuses.

The campaign to release Sami is at http://www.prisoner345.net/

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