Newsletter No 1 28 September 2005
Press Freedom:
Al Jazeera Journalist Gets 7 Years Prison Sentence

Tayssir Alluni, Al Jazeera’s correspondent was sentenced to seven years in prison on 26 September for his alleged collaboration with Al Qaeda. Press freedom groups have expressed their concern after the verdict and Al Jazeera reports they will appeal the sentence.

Alluni became world famous when he became the first journalist to make an interview with Osama Bin Laden after the 11 September 2001 attack. However, during the trial that ended on 26 September, the journalist’s connections to Al Qaeda was one the main points of accusations.

The prosecutor referred to the Bin Laden interview several times during the court hearings, saying it was suspicious that Al Jazeera had chosen Alluni for the interview, considering that he was nor a particularly well-known journalist at the time. The prosecutor claimed that Alluni was linked to the Muslim Brothers and was the leader of a group in Granada in the south of Spain, from which young people were sent to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

During the trial, 17 other people were condemned from 7 to 27 years in prison for their support to Al Qaeda, while six others were found innocent.

APN spoke to a Spanish journalist specialized in Arab media, who wishes to remain anonymous. According to him “neither the prosecutor nor the sentence consider that making an interview with Osama Bin Laden is a crime in itself. However, they believe it has been proven hat Alluni had access to Bin Laden because he had direct links with prominent members of Al Qaeda. These relations were prior to his work for Al Jazeera. The main conflict might be that where judges see facts with a proof, Alluni’s lawyers and Al Jazeera just see a circumstantial evidences that can be interpreted in many ways.”

The Arab Human Rights Committee said after the verdict that “the process has been an example of political pressures on the judiciary system”.

The Spanish journalist APN spoke to disagrees: “This investigation began in 1994. Alluni’s activities were tracked by the Spanish police from the mid-nineties, much before he started to work for Al Jazeera. If we look at Al Jazeera’s editorial line recently, it should not come as a surprise that they consider the sentence politically motivated. Since the affair began, they published headlines such as “Spain accuses Alluni of belonging to Al Qaeda”. I do not think that the sentence is politically motivated.”

Throughout the process, Alluni said that his contacts with Taliban and Al Qaeda members were a part of his work as a journalist. The sentence, however, says that he was linked to them before he started working as a journalist. It stated that Alluni was a financial courier for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Both Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists have expressed concern for the verdict.