Three journalists arrested over election coverage, contact with Taliban

Three Afghan journalists based in the provinces have been arrested in separate cases in the past four days because of their coverage of the parliamentary elections or for having contact with the Taliban.

Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager and head of a journalists’ association, was arrested by police in the Kapisa valley on 18 September. Rahmatullah Naikzad, a regular contributor to Al Jazeera, was arrested by members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on 20 September in the eastern city of Ghazni for allegedly being a Taliban propagandist. And Al Jazeera correspondent Mohammad Nadir was arrested by a joint ISAF/Afghan army unit this morning in the southern city of Kandahar.

“Journalists were fairly free to work during the election campaign and the polling, thanks in part to the Independent Electoral Commission’s efforts, but it is disturbing that three journalists have now been arrested by foreign or Afghan forces,” Reporters Without Borders said. “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.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We must point out that journalists have a right to talk to all parties to the conflicts and must not be arrested for doing this. We nonetheless fear that in these three cases, the journalists are being held just for being in contact with the Taliban.”

Reporters Without Borders has direct knowledge of the professionalism of Mujadadi, the manager of Radio Kapisa FM and former national radio journalist, and calls for his immediate release. The police transferred him to Kabul on 19 September, apparently on the orders of the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. Reporters Without Borders is concerned about his continuing detention.

Journalists in Kapisa issued a statement yesterday urging the authorities to immediately explain why Mujadadi is being held.

Reporters Without Borders calls on NATO to provide immediate access to Naikzad, a freelancer who has worked for several years for both the satellite TV station Al Jazeera and the Associated Press news agency. Confirming his arrest, a US spokesman for ISAF told Reporters Without Borders that weapons were found at his home. An ISAF communiqué described him as a Taliban propagandist who had been in contact with Taliban commanders in order to film insurgent attacks during the elections.

ISAF said three grenades and munitions were found at the home of Naikzad’s family. Relatives, who accused soldiers of using explosives to destroy the front door and carrying out a search with dogs, said the weapons were there for self-defence.

Naikzad’s relatives rejected the accusations of complicity with the Taliban, while the Associated Press pointed out in a dispatch that Naikzad had not offered it any video footage of Taliban attacks.

Provincial police chief Zarawar Zahid told the Afghan news agency Pajhwok that he did not know where Naikzad was being held and that he would do everything possible to obtain his release.

Naikzad was previously detained by the Afghan security forces in 2008 for doing a report about the execution of two women by the Taliban. Link to this case:

Nadir, who has worked for Al Jazeera for several years, was arrested this morning by ISAF special forces and Afghan soldiers, who raided his home in Kandahar’s Aino district and took him away to an unknown location after placing a bag over his head in front of his wife and two children. They also took away money and gold jewels they found during a search of the home.

The Pajhwok news agency quoted the provincial governor as saying an investigation had been launched into Nadir’s arrest. Representatives of journalists’ organisations demonstrated today in Kandahar to demand his release and to criticise the ISAF for arresting a journalist for being in contact with the Taliban.

This is not the first time that Al Jazeera journalists have been detained in Afghanistan: