Thursday, August 26, 2004

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Report

Iraqi police raid Najaf hotel, round up journalists at gunpoint

Wed Aug 25, 4:51 PM ET

NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) - Iraqi policemen rounded up dozens of journalists at gunpoint in a Najaf hotel and took them to police headquarters before later releasing them, an AFP correspondent said.

AFP/File Photo

Firing their guns in the air, the dozen odd policemen, some masked, stormed into the rooms of journalists in the Najaf Sea hotel and forced them into vans and a truck.

An AFP correspondent, who was also forced into a van, said the police pushed and pulled many reporters at gunpoint.

After a two-minute drive from the hotel, where journalists from across the world are based while covering the battle between Shiite militiamen and US-led Iraqi forces in the holy city, the reporters were taken to the office of the police chief.

"You people are not under arrest," Najaf police chief Ghaleb al-Jezari told them.

"You are brought here because I want to tell you that you never publish the truth. I speak the truth, but you never broadcast what we are."

The reporters, packed into the office, with some sitting on the floor in front of the police chief, protested at their detention.

"You have kidnapped us at gunpoint," said one reporter.

The police chief complained that reporters have been misreporting the proposed visit to Najaf by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Iraqi Shiite Muslim leader.

Naming a Middle East television NEWS channel, he said the cleric had not decided as to when he would come to Najaf, adding "but the channel has gone ahead and said he is already in Najaf."

He said the news had triggered a march by people of Kufa to Najaf which turned violent forcing police to fire as some "bad elements in the march fired at the police."

Two people were killed and five wounded in the shooting.

After the unexpected press conference at gunpoint, the police chief kissed some of the journalists' Iraqi translators and had the reporters dropped back to their hotel.


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