Al Jazeera television yesterday accused Nato of trying to suppress its coverage of the war in Afghanistan after two of its cameramen were arrested by foreign forces this week.
The Doha-based television network, which has been critical of Nato and the Afghan government, said the two Afghans were detained as part of “an attempt by the ISAF leadership to suppress its comprehensive coverage” of the conflict.
Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said earlier this week that it had “captured a suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator, who participated in filming election attacks”.
Al Jazeera named the journalists as Mohamed Nader, detained in the southern province of Kandahar on Wednesday, and Rahmatullah Nekzad, who was arrested on Monday in Ghazni province, south of Kabul.
The network provided AFP with a transcript of a telephone conversation with ISAF, in which a spokesman confirms the arrest of the cameramen and accuses them of “propaganda facilitation” on behalf of the insurgents.
Both provinces, especially Kandahar, are hotspots in the Taliban insurgency that has raged for nine years in a bid to evict foreign troops and bring down the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the media freedom watchdog, said another Afghan journalist working for state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan was arrested on September 18, the day of parliamentary elections.
Karzai ordered the culture and information ministry to do everything possible to secure the release of the three journalists.
“President Karzai has ordered the ministry to contact the relevant agencies and make every effort for the immediate release of the two cameramen and the reporter,” it said.
Al Jazeera accused ISAF, which has almost 150,000 Nato and US troops in Afghanistan fighting the insurgency, of targeting the network and threatening staff in Afghanistan “to change the editorial line”.
The network said it was committed to covering all sides of the story in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, ISAF and the Afghan government.
Al Jazeera said ISAF had obliquely accused the two men of working with the insurgency to spread Taliban propaganda and intimidate ordinary Afghans.
“The insurgents use propaganda, often delivered through news organisations, as a way to influence and in many cases intimidate the Afghan population,” it quoted ISAF as saying.
Al Jazeera had “strongly rejected the claims and insisted the two were innocent,” the statement said, calling for their immediate release.
The network’s Afghanistan correspondent Sue Turton said that most of Al Jazeera’s Afghan reporters feared arrest.
“80% of our stringers or every stringer who works in a dangerous region has now left their location for fear that they will be next to be arrested by the security forces,” she said.
“We usually get calls from our people on a daily basis to tell us what’s going on in their area and to offer footage. We haven’t had coverage in most of the country for two days now.”
RSF said on its website of the third arrest: “Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager and head of a journalists’ association, was arrested by police in the Kapisa valley.
“In all three cases, journalists working in difficult provinces have been treated like dangerous criminals.
“We urge President Hamid Karzai to intercede to ensure that grave mistakes are not being made.”
Mohomed Sharif Hakimzada, the acting governor of Kapisa province, said that intelligence agents had made the arrest “on orders from their headquarters in Kabul”.
The Northern Provinces Journalists’ Association, representing journalists working in Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir provinces, demanded the authorities release information on where Mujadadi was being held.
Ahmad Hanayesh, an executive of the association, described Mujadadi’s detention as “a serious threat” to media freedom in Afghanistan.
“Recently, self-censorship and limits on journalists’ activities has increased by the powerbrokers north of Kabul who somehow have the support of the government,” he said in a statement.
RSF called for his immediate release, saying that “police transferred him to Kabul on 19 September, apparently on the orders of the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security”.
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