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Journalists Group Criticizes Police

June 16, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday criticized police in New Jersey and Luxembourg for posing as television crews during separate hostage crises.

Even when carrying journalists’ cameras seems necessary to stop a crime, police must realize they risk endangering real reporters, said the group, a non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedoms.

``Such actions compromise the perceived independence of all journalists and increase the risks they face daily in covering dangerous news stories,″ executive director Ann Cooper said in a statement.

The committee criticized Newark, N.J., police for taking a camera from a New Jersey Network news crew when a man allegedly holding his 9-year-old son hostage demanded to be interviewed on television. Police said the tactic helped save the boy’s life.

Police said Ali Kemoum killed his wife and mother-in-law Tuesday and then held his son hostage for several hours, refusing to negotiate until he could talk to a TV reporter. Officers borrowed a camera from an NJN crew, and one posed as a reporter to interview him.

Kemoum released his son and was later charged with murder, kidnapping and weapons offenses.

``While we understand that police often find themselves in desperate situations, and that some law experts believe the confiscation of a camera in such a situation is legal, we hope this disturbing tactic does not become a trend,″ Cooper said. ``These actions might very well serve to target journalists.″

Newark police defended their strategy, saying the camera helped calm Kemoum and save his son’s life.

``The use of an undercover police officer as a reporter was pivotal in bringing a peaceful end to a six-hour tragedy,″ the department said in a statement. ``Having an unarmed civilian, who has not been trained in hostage situations, go inside of the house for an interview, would give the suspect an opportunity to take a second hostage or kill a third person.″

The Newark incident came two weeks after police in Luxembourg posed as a TV crew to lure a gunman into an ambush and end a hostage crisis.

When the gunman emerged for an ``interview″ June 1 holding a child in one arm and a grenade in the other, police posing as cameramen killed him. Three adults and 25 children held hostage for about 30 hours were rescued.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists also criticized the police tactic. But Luxembourg police defended the strategy, saying it minimized the threat to the hostages.

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