Al Jazeera has called on the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) to immediately release two of its cameramen arrested in Afghanistan over the last 72 hours.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Al Jazeera said the arrests were “an attempt by the Isaf leadership to suppress its comprehensive coverage of the Afghan war”.
The two Al Jazeera cameramen detained are Mohamed Nader and Rahmatullah Nekzad.
According to Nader’s wife, he was picked up from his home in southern Kandahar by Isaf troops on September 22.
|Rahmatullah Nekzad was arrested by Isaf in Afganistan|
She said she was woken up when the troops raided their home during the night. The troops then proceeded to arrest her husband, removing him from his bedroom, she said. The troops also confiscated some of their valuables.
Nekzad, the other cameraman working for Al Jazeera in a freelance capacity, was arrested two days earlier under similar circumstances in Ghazni province.
Isaf, though, in statements described both as “suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator[s]”.
“The insurgents use propaganda, often delivered through news organisations as a way to influence and in many cases intimidate the Afghan population,” Isaf wrote to Al Jazeera.
“Coalition and Afghan forces have a responsibility to interdict the activities of these insurgent propaganda networks. Individuals detained as a consequence will be investigated and if substantiated will remain in detention awaiting Afghan judicial review.
“Each case will be investigated and reviewed in accordance with standard Isaf and USFOR-A procedures,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera response
Al Jazeera, however, strongly rejected the claims and insisted the two were innocent.
“There are two very important issues here, one is the vagueness of the allegations against this cameraman: what exactly is the allegation of being ‘a propagandist’ – how do you define that?” Anthony Mills, from the International Press Institute in Geneva, told Al Jazeera.
“If it just means that as a cameraman he was doing his work as a journalist filming the violence which we know has been wrecking that country in recent years – I think one has to be really careful before jumping to these kinds of accusations and arresting the cameraman.”
If there are no concrete criminal charges behind the arrest, then they should be released immediately, Mills said.
The arrests follow a recent pattern of escalation by Isaf and coalition forces to target Al Jazeera journalists in Afghanistan.
Recently, Al Jazeera’s Afghan bureau chief Samir Allawi was threatened and pressed to change the editorial line.
Al Jazeera, however, said it will continue to maintain its coverage on the basis of fair and impartial journalism in line with its Code of Ethics and will not bias its coverage in favour of any party or coalition despite pressures being imposed on it.
As part of their work, cameramen and crew need to contact all sides of those involved in a particular issue, which in this case includes Isaf forces, the Afghanistan government as well as the Taliban.
These contacts should not be seen as a criminal offence but rather as a necessary component of the work that journalists undertake, the channel said.