NATO: 3 detained Afghan journalists released after outcry

By Eric Talmadge, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

NATO: Detained Afghan journalists released

KABUL, Afghanistan — Three journalists detained by coalition forces and Afghanistan’s intelligence service for allegedly spreading Taliban propaganda have been freed, NATO said Friday, following an outcry from media workers and a call from President Hamid Karzai for their quick release.

The three Afghan journalists were detained over the past week — Rahmatullah Naikzad and Mohammad Nadir by the NATO-led coalition and Afghan security forces, and the third by the Afghan intelligence service.

NATO said all three had been released by Friday evening.

Naikzad, who has worked for Al-Jazeera and as a freelancer for The Associated Press, was detained by coalition forces in the eastern town of Ghazni. He was released Friday and has returned home, he told the AP. Earlier in the day, Al-Jazeera cameraman Nadir, who was arrested Wednesday in the southern city of Kandahar, was also released.

“After reviewing the initial intelligence and information received during questioning, the two men were not considered a significant security threat and were released,” said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith. “During their brief detention, they were treated humanely and in accordance with international law and U.S. policies.”

Naikzad said that during his custody he was sad and very uncomfortable and kept recalling the early morning raid on his home.

“Now I’m very, very happy,” he said by telephone from his home. “I can see my wife, my children, my mother, my family. I’m so, so glad. It is a gift God has given me.”

He said he was not mistreated, but his eyes were covered and his hands were bound. He said he was not given proper time for prayer.

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

The third journalist, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa province north of Kabul, was arrested by Afghan agents on Saturday. NATO said in a statement that he had been freed by Afghan authorities as well, but did not provide further details. Afghan officials could not immediately confirm that information.

The arrests sparked an angry reaction from Afghan media workers, journalism advocates and human rights groups. Karzai called Thursday for their quick release.

NATO has defended the detentions, but the alliance’s secretary-general on Thursday said he was open to their release if they were 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 a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“No news agency working in Afghanistan was targeted as part of these operations, and no guilt or innocence is presumed by our activities,” said Rear Adm. Smith. “The operations were conducted with our Afghan partners and based on intelligence gathered over an extended period of time, focusing on insurgent propaganda networks and their affiliates.”

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.

Also Friday, a suicide bomber in a car targeted a NATO convoy on the outskirts of Mazar-i-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.

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

“I was shocked that they were asking me illogical questions, like, ‘Why are you constantly contacting the Taliban spokesman?’” he told the AP. “I said, ‘It is my duty to have a link with them because I’m a journalist. Every journalist has contacts with the Taliban — not in the form of helping them, but to get the news from them.”

Naikzad was arrested at 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 self-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 Associated Press 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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