Iraq on Thursday freed on bail a French reporter held for three weeks for allegedly taking unauthorised photographs of security installations in Baghdad.
Nadir Dendoune was in good health and is set to leave for Paris on Friday, a diplomat said, in a case that sparked uproar in France with press freedoms groups and the French government calling for the journalist’s release.
But although Dendoune, who also holds Australian and Algerian passports, is likely to depart for France, the fate of two Iraqi associates who were released on bail with him is unclear.
“We released him, but still have many doubts about him,” a senior Iraqi security official told AFP on condition of anonymity, while Muayad al-Lami, the head of the journalists’ union, said Dendoune was released and met by French ambassador Denys Gauer.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP his ministry “made a very strong intervention… on behalf of the French journalist,” as there was “no strong evidence against him.”
Zebari noted that Dendoune’s name was in a security service database as one of those who volunteered as human shields to oppose the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Iraqi Saddam Hussein, and said that may have been one of the reasons he was kept in detention.
“But now I believe the issue has been closed,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement that he was “pleased at the release” and added that the ministry had worked to secure freedom for Dendoune.
Dendoune’s fixer Haqi Mohammed and a man who allowed Dendoune to stay at his home in Baghdad were also freed, with all three having paid bail of 10 million Iraqi dinars (about $8,330) each, according to the security official.
“He is in good health,” a French diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Everything is OK. Normally, he will leave (for France) tomorrow.”
Dendoune was arrested while reportedly visiting Iraq to compile a series of stories on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of the country for French magazines Le Monde Diplomatique and Le Courier de l’Atlas.
Iraqi judicial sources claim that Dendoune was arrested carrying a camera with which he took pictures of the Iraqi intelligence service headquarters, army and police.
Dendoune’s sister Houria told AFP from Paris, however, that her brother was arrested while taking pictures of a water treatment plant.
“The announcement of Dendoune’s release is an immense relief,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said in a statement. “He was arrested simply for doing his work as a journalist.”
RSF noted in its statement that Iraq is ranked 150th out of 179 countries worldwide in its latest press freedom index.