Jazeera journalist wins peace prize

Aljazeera journalist Taysir Aluni, who is defending himself against charges of belonging to an al-Qaida cell, was awarded a peace prize by a Spanish peace group on Sunday.

    Aluni has received support from many quarters

    Best known for interviewing Usama bin Ladin shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Aluni was arrested in September on the orders of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

    Aluni was accused of providing money and information to al-Qaida operatives and recruiting fighters for the group.

    His detention sparked outrage among Arab human rights groups, journalists and colleagues at Qatar-based Aljazeera, who called it an attack on press freedom.

    The Francisca Mateos foundation which gave him the peace
    prize is a Spanish non-governmental organisation dedicated to international cooperation and social work within Spain.

    Previous recipients of the award include exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Aluni won the prize for his work covering wars in Iraq and
    Afghanistan, portraying the brutality of conflict and fighting
    manipulation of the media, a foundation statement said. It also appeared to be offering him a gesture of solidarity.

    "You are not only innocent, you are a good professional, a
    hero and an example to be followed," the statement said.

    Released on bail in October on medical grounds, the journalist, who holds Spanish citizenship, said he was sure Spanish justice would prove him innocent.

    No date for a trial has been announced.

    Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon
    ordered Alouni's arrest


    "I believe that if I am judged fairly (people will see) that
    the charges... are not based on credible evidence... I, like many people, believe in my innocence, and eventually they will have to let me go," Aluni told Reuters after receiving the prize.

    He said he had taken money to Syrian exiles in Afghanistan
    and Turkey as a gesture of solidarity, but denied they were al-Qaida members.

    He also said the arrest had left him disillusioned about
    press freedom in the wake of the US-led "war on terror", which Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has staunchly supported.

    "Americans and Europeans who have interviewed Bin
    Laden... when they returned to their countries were given
    tributes, prizes," Aluni said.

    "When I returned to my country, which is Spain, I found
    myself caught up in this legal case."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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