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Afghanistan: Police Raid On TV Station Sparks Protest

(RFE/RL) KABUL, April 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- More than 100 journalists, supported by some members of the Afghan parliament, protested in Kabul today against a police raid on a private television station that was ordered by Afghanistan's attorney-general.

The April 17 raid has fueled new concerns about harassment of Afghan media by the government.

Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet today defended the raid on Kabul's private Tolo Television, which he ordered, saying reporter Hamid Haidari had inaccurately paraphrased his remarks in a way that could provoke unrest.

Sabet said he telephoned Haidari to ask for an explanation and a correction. He says he only ordered the raid after Haidari ignored a request to come to the attorney-general's office.

"My purpose was to ask this gentleman to correct the report that he has [issued] so that we would not have to purse legal charges against him, because we do not want to have conflict with the press," Sabet said.

Sabet said he was talking about difficulties of implementing Afghan law in remote and insecure areas. He complained that his remarks were taken out of context in a report that quoted him as saying merely that "Afghan law is weak."

Station Stands By Report

Tolo's management has stood by Haidari and his report, saying it was accurate and truthfully represented statements made by Sabet at a press conference.

Since the raid, the station has repeatedly aired edited video of Sabet's original remarks.

A statement issued by Tolo alleges that the raid was illegal because none of the 50 police presented a written court order or arrest warrant.

It says that when asked to present such a document, a deputy district police commander simply scribbled a note on a piece of paper.

"The enemy of freedom of expression is not just those who are against the government."

That note was rejected by Tolo's legal advisers, who said it was not valid under Afghan law. They cited Article 38 of the Afghan Constitution, which states that "no one, including the state, shall have the right to enter a residence or search it without the owner's permission, or by order of an authoritative court, except in situations and methods delineated by law."

The Tolo statement says police physically abused three staff members who refused to allow authorities to enter the building without a written legal order. Those employees were held by police for about 40 minutes before being released without charge.

Haidari was not among those detained, but colleague Siddiq Ahmadzada was.

Alleged Beatings, Detentions

Ahmadzada also was one of about 100 Afghan and foreign journalists at a street protest in Kabul today objecting to the raid.

"The police beat us with the butts of Kalashnikovs and with the barrels of Kalashnikovs. And they punched us and kicked us," Ahmadzada said. "And...they took us and the other journalists to the attorney general's office."

AP has confirmed that four of its staff members also were detained while observing the raid from outside the Tolo building. AP reporters said they saw some detainees being kicked or punched by police.

Shukria Barakzai, a member of the Afghan parliament, joined journalists protesting today against the police actions.

"They really [violated] the law," Barakzai said. "That's the reality, unfortunately. It's a small example for the journalists in Afghanistan. We have lots of violence. The enemy of freedom of expression is not just those who are against the government. Somehow, our government is also against [free speech] because they are afraid [of the] reality which the media is broadcasting."

"Without taking note of the media law and the Constitution of Afghanistan, they sent the police to attack Tolo TV and arrest some journalists and members of Tolo TV," said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, another lawmaker supporting today's demonstration. "For that, the journalists union and all journalists of Afghanistan, together with members of parliament, have gathered here to condemn this work of the [attorney-general] and the police for attacking Tolo TV and beating the Tolo TV staff."

Sabet accuses Tolo of exaggerating the scale of the raid. But he has apologized for the alleged beating of journalists by police officers. Sabet says he is launching an investigation into those allegations.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and correspondent Hamid Pazhman contributed to this report.)