Rahmatullah Nekzad is a freelancer working for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan [AJE]
Two Al Jazeera cameramen who were arrested in southern Afghanistan earlier this week by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) have been freed.
There had been increasing pressure on Isaf from journalists in Afghanistan and beyond, as well as from the Afghan government, to release Mohamed Nader Jumaa and Rahmatullah Nekzad, who were set free on Friday.
Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa and colleague of the two cameramen, who was detained by the Afghan intelligence service, was also released.
“I’m free,” Jumaa said as he left Kandahar airfield, the largest Nato base in southern Afghanistan. “They said I can go, ‘you’re free’.”
Jumaa was arrested early on Wednesday in Kandahar by Isaf, which said it had “captured a suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator, who participated in filming election attacks”.
He said he was questioned by US investigators during the three days of his arrest.
Al Jazeera condemnation
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”.
After being urged to intervene on behalf of the detained reporters, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, instructed the information and culture ministry on Thursday to follow up on the detentions and work for the quick release of the jailed journalists.
The same day, nearly two dozen journalists rallied at the provincial governor’s compound in Kandahar to express outrage over the arrests.
Al Jazeera condemned Wednesday’s arrests
Jumaa’s wife said her husband was picked up from his home by Isaf troops on September 22.
She said she was woken up when the troops raided their home during the night.
The troops then proceeded to arrest Jumaa, removing him from his bedroom, she said.
The troops also confiscated some of their valuables, she said.
“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.”
Pattern of escalation
The arrests followed a recent pattern of escalation by Isaf and multinational forces to target Al Jazeera journalists in Afghanistan.
Recently, Samir Allawi, Al Jazeera’s Afghanistan bureau chief, 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 pressure 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.