Journalist Hanged For Alleged Spying; Britain Recalls Ambassador
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq on Thursday hanged a London-based journalist it accused of spying, touching off a storm of protest from European governments. Britain recalled its ambassador from Iraq and halted ministerial visits.
″Thatcher wanted him alive. We sent him in a box,″ Information Minister Latif Nassayif Jassim said in announcing the execution.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led the campaign to repeal the death sentence imposed on 31-year-old Farzad Bazoft. Bazoft was working for The Observer, a London weekly, investigating reports of an explosion at an Iraqi military facility when he was arrested.
Iraq accused Bazoft of spying for Israel and Britain, charges Bazoft and his colleagues denied.
Observer editor Donald Trelford and about 200 journalists held a vigil outside the heavily guarded Iraqi Embassy in London. Journalists left a single candle burning in Bazoft’s memory in St. Bride’s church, Fleet Street, London’s former newspaper row.
″It is an awful day for the newspaper,″ said Trelford. ″We have had one of our number killed for simply being a reporter.″
Arab governments stayed silent. Even Jordan’s King Hussein, who joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in appeals for clemency, would not condemn President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
The British domestic news agency Press Association late Thursday quoted unidentified British government sources as saying Bazoft served a jail term in Britain for robbery.
The sources were quoted as saying Bazoft was convicted at Northampton, central England, in August 1981 of robbing a savings and loan office of $765. He was said to have walked into the office carrying a fake bomb and threatened to blow up the building unless he was given the money.
He was sentenced to 18 months in jail but with good conduct time got out after a year, PA quoted the sources as saying.
The agency quoted the sources as saying the jail term had no bearing on diplomatic decisions taken by the Thatcher government Thursday.
President Hussein had said repeatedly that Iraq did not fear Britain’s anger, and the information minister repeated this after the execution.
″It seems the British could not understand our psychology that we are not intimidated,″ Jassim said. Hundreds of journalists from government-run Iraqi media applauded. Jassim said Bazoft’s body was handed over to the British Embassy.
In London, Mrs. Thatcher said, ″This is a very, very grave and serious matter. The Iraqi government’s action is an act of barbarism which is deeply repugnant to all civilized people.″
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd announced that Ambassador Harold Walker had been recalled from Baghdad. Hurd called off a trade mission to Iraq and said all ministerial visits had been halted.
Hurd also said all six Iraqi military trainees in Britain were being ordered to leave the country. But he said there were no plans to implement trade sanctions.
Britain has a trade surplus of about $648 million with Iraq.
Bazoft, an Iranian-born journalist, was detained in September near a military industrial complex south of Baghdad. He was investigating reports that hundreds of people had died in an explosion at the complex in August.
A British nurse, Daphne Parish, 52, was convicted on charges she drove Bazoft to the Al-Iskandaria military complex and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Ms. Parish had been working as a senior nursing administrator at an Irish-run hospital in the Iraqi capital.
Robin Kealy, the British general consul in Baghdad, visited Bazoft shortly before his hanging at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
In a British Broadcasting Corp. interview, Kealy said Bazoft looked ″hollow-eyed and subdued″ and repeated that he was not a spy.
The first news of the execution in Iraqi media came on the evening television news program.
The broadcast include a televised statement first broadcast in October in which Bazoft said he was a spy for Israel. He reportedly said in court during his trial last week the statement was made under duress.
The television report said Bazoft was disguised as an Indian doctor when arrested and was carrying maps he had drawn.
Last year, Western diplomats in Baghdad confirmed there had been an explosion at the Al-Iskandaria complex around Aug. 17.
The London newspaper The Independent quoted unidentified diplomats and Middle East sources as saying 700 people were killed, including Egyptian engineers helping the Iraqis to develop a ballistic missile.
The Iraqis have said there was an explosion and fire at a fuel depot in the area Aug. 17, 1989 and that 19 Iraqis were killed, mainly firefighters.
Bazoft, a stateless Iranian, was the son of an Iranian National Oil Co. manager. He never returned to Iran after coming to Britain as a teen-ager and was traveling in Iraq on British papers.
As a journalist, he specialized in Middle East affairs.
The European Parliament observed a minute’s silence in Bazoft’s memory.
Amnesty International said the execution was the latest in a long list of ″severe and systematic human rights abuses,″ in Iraq.
The International Press Institute based in London and Zurich sent a cable to Hussein expressing ″outrage and shock.″ Britain’s National Union of Journalists said Bazoft paid a terrible price for ″the freedom of information.″
In Paris, the Reporters Without Borders said Iraq had committed a ″state crime.″
The Bush administration expressed regret Thursday but did not join the strong condemnation.
On Bazoft’s computer terminal in the Observer news room Thursday were the words, ″May he rest in peace.″ His clippings lay nearby.