Iraq journalists held for ‘stealing’ minister’s notepad

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Iraqi press freedom activists on Saturday complained about the detention for more than 10 days of two journalists accused of stealing the notebook of the country’s defense minister after a meeting of political leaders, according to Agence France Presse.

Mohammed Fuad and Afdhal Jumaa allegedly stole Saadun al-Dulaimi’s notepad after a June 1 meeting, convened to ease tensions and break a long-standing deadlock that has slowed lawmaking and led to a spike in violence.

The meeting, which journalists attended, was held in a large conference hall.

The accused pair, who work for Iraqi news outlet ANB television, were arrested on June 4 and have been held in detention since then. ANB television is owned by a member of a political party led by Ayad Allawi, one of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s principal opponents.

Defense ministry officials accuse the pair of intentionally stealing the book, but family members and activists insist they found the notepad after the meeting and handed it to an official who subsequently failed to return it.

“The camera in the hall was recording the symbolic meeting between the politicians, and it revealed the journalists stealing the notebook of Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi when one of the journalists hid it under his shirt,” a defense ministry official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

“The investigation has made clear that the journalists committed a crime,” the official stated. “Their file has been transferred to the judiciary because they took things belonging to a senior official in the country.”

It was not immediately clear what offence the pair had been charged with.

A member Fuad’s family, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP that
Fuad and Jumaa’s homes were raided, and that the two were being held in a defense ministry detention center.

“Detaining them is not right,” Hassan Jumaa, head of a Baghdad-based center dedicated to defending journalists against lawsuits, told AFP. “The minister can complain, but keeping them in custody is not justified.”

The Journalism Freedom Observatory, an Iraq-based press freedom group, also condemned their arrest.

“These measures are akin to those taken by a military dictatorship,” said JFO chief Ziad al-Ajili to AFP. “In fact, the minister of defense should be accused of negligence [for forgetting his notepad], and also because he is breaking constitutional rules by detaining journalists for more than 24 hours without an arrest warrant.”