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Three Detained Afghan Journalists Released

Al-Jazeera said its employees were not working with the Taliban.

A NATO spokesman says three Afghan journalists who were detained by international coalition forces working with the Afghan intelligence service on suspicion of having ties to the Taliban have been released.

The arrests of Mohammad Nadir, a television cameraman for Al-Jazeera, and Rahmatullah Naikzad, who worked for both Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press, prompted angry reactions from journalism rights groups and a call by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for their release.

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, communications director for the NATO-led military coalition, said today, "After reviewing the initial intelligence and information received during questioning, the two men were not considered a significant security threat and were released."

He said the operation was conducted with NATO's Afghan partners and was based on "intelligence gathered over an extended period of time, focusing on insurgent propaganda networks and their affiliates."

A third journalist, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa Province north of Kabul, has also been freed, according to NATO. Mujadadi was apprehended on September 18, the same day as the Afghan parliamentary elections.

Smith said all three men had been "treated humanely and in accordance with international law and U.S. policies."

'Under Siege'

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan spoke to Al-Jazeera cameraman Nadir after his release. "I was questioned at least five times," he said. "Overall, they treated me well. They didn't behave badly during the interrogation. They gave me food. And I was escorted to washroom. Their interpreters were Afghans and Pashtuns who understood everything and translated fairly."

He said he told the soldiers, "I am not in hiding in Kandahar. Almost all journalists know me very well. I am not an outsider. They could give me a call and I would come on foot. There was no need for Americans to rush and put my home under siege or terrify my family in that midnight."

Nadir said the U.S. soldiers who picked him up ignored his protests that he was a member of the press. "Many Americans barged into the house and started searching our closets," he recounted. "I kept repeating the word "press" to tell them I work for the media. But they paid little attention to what I said. They took my pictures. They were showing me five pictures on a page to identify faces that I didn't know."

He continued: "I told them that I only know journalists. Then they blindfolded me. There was an additional cover, so I was unable to hear. Then I was taken to a doctor for checkup who asked me if I have been tortured. Then they put me into a small room. I was told to rest there."

Official Investigation

Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Sayed Makhdom Raheen told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the ministry had contacted the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan security forces about the arrests and that ISAF had promised to make public the results of its investigations into why the men were picked up.

"[According to ISAF officials] the journalist detained in Kandahar was reportedly exchanging secret words with [members over the Taliban] over the telephone," Raheen said. "He was quoted as asking the enemy if they had 'pomegranates ready.'"

"The [journalist] in Ghazni was reportedly asking the Taliban about their next target area, so he could approach the area in advance and cover their rocket attack. That is all [that has been] said. The truth is unknown so far. ISAF and our national security forces are investigating," he said.

Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said NATO wasn't helping its cause by detaining journalists in the middle of the night. "All of these men were recognized as legitimate journalists. They never should have been detained in the first place," he told AP.

Al-Jazeera, which has extensive contacts within insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Nadir and Naikzad were both innocent. The station said their contacts with the Taliban should not be viewed as a criminal offense, but rather as a necessary part of their work as journalists.

written by Heather Maher with agency material and reporting from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan