NATO: 3 Afghan journalists freed after outcry over detainments for alleged Taliban propaganda

By Deb Riechmann, AP
Saturday, September 25, 2010

NATO says 3 detained Afghan journalists released

KABUL, Afghanistan — Three journalists detained for suspected links to Taliban propaganda networks were freed in Afghanistan after angry reactions from media advocates and President Hamid Karzai’s call for their quick release.

Mohammad Nadir, a television cameraman for al-Jazeera, and Rahmatullah Naikzad, who worked for both al-Jazeera and The Associated Press, were released by NATO, the military alliance said Friday.

“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.”

A third journalist, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa province north of Kabul, who was held by Afghan intelligence officials also was freed, NATO said. The intelligence service would not say when he was released or disclose information about why Mujadadi was apprehended Sept. 18, the same day as the Afghan parliamentary elections.

Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said he thought Karzai’s decision Thursday, instructing the Ministry of Information and Culture to follow up on the detentions and work for the journalists’ freedom, could have sped their release.

He said he didn’t think NATO was doing itself any favors by detaining journalists in the middle of the night.

“All of these men were recognized as legitimate journalists,” Dietz said. “They never should have been detained in the first place.”

Dietz also said media coverage of the detentions might have been a factor in their quick release.

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

Nadir told The Associated Press in an interview that after being arrested at his home 4 a.m. Wednesday in Kandahar, coalition forces drove him, handcuffed and blindfolded, less than an hour to a place he later learned was Kandahar Air Field.

He said he was questioned five different times in a small room.

“I was shocked that they were asking me illogical questions like ‘Why are you constantly contacting the Taliban spokesman?’ 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.’”

During the questioning, Nadir said he was asked to identify five men in photographs. He said he told them he didn’t know any of them.

“I know journalists and you can ask anybody about me,” Nadir said. “I didn’t cross the boundary lines of journalism.”

Nadir, who claims he slept only about an hour during his two-day detention, said he was given some tablets that he ingested even though he did not know what kind of pills they were.

When he was released at 6:30 a.m. Friday and escorted to the gate, Nadir said he was given 1,000 Afghani, or about $22, so he could get a taxi to his home in the city.

“The Americans didn’t hurt me, or rough me up,” Nadir said. “I told them ‘Instead of arresting me, you (could have) just given me a call. I can’t run away. I’m a journalist. I’ll be here.’”

Recounting his capture, Nadir said he was sleeping at his home when his mother told him she heard noise outside. He said when he went out to investigate someone held him at gunpoint. He was handcuffed and his relatives were told not to interfere as they started to search the house. Nadir said the arresting force took leaflets, videocassettes, and gold jewelry worth several thousand dollars from his home during the operation.

In a telephone call from his home, Naikzad said he was arrested in Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan early Monday.

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.

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.

Naikzad said he was flown by helicopter to a coalition facility in Gardez, the provincial capital of neighboring Paktia province. There, two Americans, dressed in civilian clothes, questioned him eight times during his five-day detention, he said.

Naikzad had few complaints about his detention. He said he only sampled the “foreign food” he was given and instead ate nuts, which also were provided. However, Naikzad, a Muslim, complained that he was not given proper time for prayer. Naikzad said he was free to move around in his room, but that he was blindfolded and handcuffed when he was taken to a different room for questioning.

The interrogators asked him, “Who is your contact with the Taliban?” He said he told them “Everybody is talking with the Taliban. I’m not calling the Taliban. The Taliban are calling the media.”

“The American investigators told me, ‘If you are talking with the Taliban on the basis of doing a story, no problem. But the reports that have come to us is that you are giving information to the Taliban,’” Naikzad said. “Everybody is trying to get news from the Taliban for their own news agencies.”

He said one member of the coalition told him as he was released, “We heard a lot of bad things about you, but please forgive us.”

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

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

Separately, two NATO service members died Friday following an improvised explosive device attack in eastern Afghanistan. NATO did not disclose further details.

Also in the east, about 30 insurgents were killed during an operation involving a combined force of more than 250 Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and coalition soldiers.

The force received small-arms fire in Alishing district of Laghman province. No civilians were harmed during the operation, NATO said in a statement Friday.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Amir Shah and Eric Talmadge in Kabul contributed to this report.

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