Detained Afghan journalist accused of spreading Taliban propaganda released by NATO

By Eric Talmadge, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Detained Afghan journalist released by coalition

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan journalist detained by coalition forces for allegedly spreading Taliban propaganda has been freed, NATO said Friday.

The release follows an outcry from media workers and an order from President Hamid Karzai on Thursday to investigate the detention and seek the quick release of the journalist and two others.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Mohammad Nadir, who was arrested in the southern city of Kandahar, was one of three Afghan journalists detained over the past week — two by the coalition and Afghan security forces and a third by the Afghan intelligence service.

NATO said it had information linking two of the men to networks that act as a mouthpiece for the Taliban and spread insurgent propaganda.

Nadir was let go early Friday, said Zelmai Ayubi, spokesman for the governor in the southern province of Kandahar where the journalist was arrested.

In addition to Nadir, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa province north of Kabul, was arrested Sept. 18 by Afghan intelligence agents. And Rahmatullah Naikzad, who works for Al-Jazeera and is a freelancer for The Associated Press, was detained by coalition forces in the eastern town of Ghazni. The coalition said Naikzad remains in detention as his case is being reviewed.

The arrests sparked an angry reaction from Afghan media workers, journalism advocates and human rights groups.

NATO defended the detentions, but the alliance’s secretary-general on Thursday said he was open to their release if they are found innocent.

“We are in Afghanistan to fight for basic principles like free speech and a free media, and I am a strong defender of that,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the AP on the sidelines of the annual U.N. summit in New York. He said the cases would be handled fairly.

Also Friday, a suicide bomber in a car targeted a NATO convoy on the outskirts of Mazari Sharif city in Balkh province in the north, according to Deputy Police Chief Abdul Raouf Taj.

He said the attack only slightly damaged the convoy but one child was killed and 28 people were wounded in a wedding party bus that was passing by. Most of the injured were women and children on their way to the wedding.

Separately, NATO reported Friday that coalition forces conducted an airstrike in Kabul province Thursday, killing Qari Mansur, a senior Haqqani operator who was linked, along with five of his associates, to an attack against an Afghan National Police unit earlier in the week. The Haqqani network is a Pakistan-based faction of the Taliban with close ties to al-Qaida.

The coalition said it tracked Mansur to a remote valley east of the Afghan capital and then conducted the airstrike. Afghan police could not get to the area because of a suspected mine field, but both Afghan and coalition forces said all six insurgents were killed.

“Qari Mansur was one of the most prolific attack planners for the Kabul insurgent network,” said U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres, a lead spokesman for the coalition.

Nadir, the cameraman, was detained about 4 a.m. Wednesday at his home. Coalition troops woke up his wife and forcibly removed him from his bedroom as they searched the house, Al-Jazeera said in a statement.

Naikzad was arrested in his home on Monday. NATO said three grenades, magazines and a “significant number of AK-47 rounds” were found in the compound where he was detained.

It is common for Afghans to keep weapons for protection.

The coalition said they suspected Naikzad of working with the Taliban to spread insurgent propaganda and film attacks tied to parliamentary elections held last weekend. Naikzad supplied the AP with photographs of Afghans voting peacefully, but the AP did not use them.

Paul Colford, media relations director for the AP in New York, said Naikzad has contributed to the AP from time to time since 2007 as a freelance photographer and videographer.

Al-Jazeera, which has extensive contacts within insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Nadir and Naikzad were both innocent.

“As part of their work, cameramen and crew need to have contact with all sides of those involved in a particular issue, which in this case includes NATO forces, the Afghanistan government as well as the Taliban,” the Doha, Qatar-based news organization said. “These contacts should not be seen as a criminal offense, but rather as a necessary component of the work that journalists undertake.”

Associated Press Writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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