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Guantanamo detainee journalist banned from Britain

16 January 2009

A journalist who spent seven years in the notorious US Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba is being refused entry to Britain. The NUJ has demanding that Sami El-Haj be given a visa to take part in a speaking tour to tell people of his experience.

Sudan-born Sami El-Haj was a video reporter for the Al-Jazeera TV news channel when he was seized by American forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and taken to Guantanamo, where he was tortured and brutally force-fed through several hunger strikes.

The NUJ supported the international campaign for his release. He was released last summer and returned, a free man, to Al-Jazeera in Qatar to resume his career, as a programme producer.

In December, he was invited to join a speaking tour around Britain organised by the group Cageprisoners and sponsored by the peer Lord Ahmed.

The tour coincides with the seventh anniversary of the opening of the camp and the anticipated announcement of its closure by President-elect Obama. The speakers are former detainees and a former guard at the camp who has become an anti-war campaigner.

However, the British Embassy is refusing Sami El-Haj a visa, even though another former Guantanamo detainee, Jarallah el-Marri, a Qatari citizen, is taking part in the tour, having been granted a visa in Qatar.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, has written to the embassy demanding that it issues the visa. He said:

"Journalists around the world campaigned for Sami while he was locked up and mistreated in Guantanamo. Now we want to be able to hear his story directly from him, and so should anyone else.
"No evidence of terrorist activity was been produced against him. He is a free man. What are they worried about? We have demanded to know."

The speaking tour, which began in London on January 11, has had to proceed without him.

Tags: , sami el-haj, al jazeera, guantanamo bay, war on terror, visa, qatar, journalists detained, journalists freed