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Afghan Journalists' Detentions Raise Alarm Bells

Al-Jazeera has called for the journalists' immediate release.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for an investigation into the reasons behind the detention this week of three journalists, and has instructed his Ministry of Information to ensure their release.

The detentions of the three Afghans -- two of whom worked as cameramen for the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera, and the third a reporter for Afghan state TV (RTA) -- have raised alarms outside the presidential office as well.

An Al-Jazeera statement said that the arrests were "an attempt by ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] leadership to suppress its comprehensive coverage" of the Afghan war. International media watchdogs are expressing concerns that the three are being held only for being in contact with the Taliban, and says that journalists' right to speak to all sides in the conflict must be protected.

The arrest of one journalist has been acknowledged by NATO, which said in a press statement on September 20 said that it "captured a suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator, who participated in filming election attacks, during an overnight operation in Ghazni Province."

Samer Allawi, Kabul bureau chief for the Qatar-based satellite television network Al-Jazeera, said that cameraman Rehmatullah Nekzad was detained at his home in the central city of Ghazni on the night of September 20, and cameraman Mohammad Nadir at his home in the southern city of Kandahar September 22. RTA correspondent Hojatullah Mojadidi was reportedly detained in the northern Kapisa valley on September 18.

Nadir was subsequently released, having spent two days in detention.

Allawi denied that the Al-Jazeera journalists were doing anything other than covering the news.

"It is clear for us that if you want to hide something than you silence the journalists," Allawi said. "Both of the people [arrested] had good contacts with the ISAF, they had good contacts with the Taliban and Afghan authorities in their regions. They were covering what is happening there."

He said that both Afghan and foreign journalists associated with the network have been arrested and beaten by the Taliban, Afghan government, and international troops. "All we are doing is our journalistic professional work," Allawi said.

An ISAF spokesman, reached by telephone in Kabul, declined to comment on the issue.

In the southern province of Kandahar today, provincial governor Tooryalai Weesa told journalists that Afghan forces were consulted and participated in the raid to arrest Nader.

"The ongoing investigations will determine whether he is guilty or innocent," Weesa said. "If he is innocent he will be freed soon."

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Bashir Ahmad Nadim, a correspondent for the Pajhwok Afghan news agency, called for the release of Nader and other detained Afghan journalists.

"You know that journalists working here face multiple problems and challenges," Nadim said. "There is no security, little professional support. The serious problem now is that journalists face threats from various sides, and the arrest of Mohammad Nader by the international forces is an example of that."

"We must point out that journalists have a right to talk to all parties to the conflict and must not be arrested for doing this," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on September 22. "We nonetheless fear that in these three cases, the journalists are being held just for being in contact with the Taliban."

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists also expressed concern over the arrests. "We are very concerned by the detentions of Mohammed Nader and Rahmatullah Nekzad, and we call on ISAF to immediately detail why and where they are being held," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. ​