Coalition forces release journalists in Afghanistan

Three Afghan journalists held by coalition forces and Afghanistan’s intelligence service for allegedly spreading Taliban propaganda have been freed, Nato said today.

The three were detained over the past week. Rahmatullah Naikzad and Mohammad Nadir were held by the Nato-led coalition and Afghan security forces, and the third by the Afghan intelligence service.

NATO said all three had been released by Friday evening. It comes after an outcry from fellow media workers and a call from President Hamid Karzai for their quick release.

Mr Naikzad, who has worked for Al-Jazeera and as a freelancer for the Associated Press, was detained by coalition forces in the eastern town of Ghazni. He was released earlier today and has returned home, he told AP. Earlier in the day, Al-Jazeera cameraman Mr Nadir, who was arrested on Wednesday in the southern city of Kandahar, was also released.

“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 Admiral Gregory Smith. “During their brief detention, they were treated humanely and in accordance with international law and US policies.”

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

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

He said he was not mistreated, but his eyes were covered and his hands were bound. He said he was not given proper time for prayer.

Mr Nadir was detained on Wednesday morning at his home in the southern city of Kandahar. Coalition troops woke up his wife and forcibly removed him from his bedroom as they searched the house, Al-Jazeera said in a statement.

Mr Naikzad was arrested in his home on Monday. 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 self-protection.

The coalition said they suspected Mr Naikzad of working with the Taliban to spread insurgent propaganda and film attacks tied to parliamentary elections last weekend. Mr Naikzad supplied the Associated Press with photographs of Afghans voting peacefully, but AP did not use them.

Nato had said it had information linking the men to networks that act as a mouthpiece for the Taliban and spread insurgent propaganda.

The third journalist, Hojatullah Mujadadi, a radio station manager in Kapisa province, north of Kabul, was arrested by Afghan agents on Saturday. Nato said in a statement that he was freed by Afghan authorities as well, but did not provide further details. Afghan officials could not immediately confirm that information.

The arrests sparked an angry reaction from Afghan media workers, journalism advocates and human rights groups, and Mr Karzai yesterday called for their quick release.

Nato has defended the detentions, but the alliance’s secretary-general yesterday said he was open to their release if they were found innocent.

“We are in Afghanistan to fight for basic principles like free speech and a free media, and I am a strong defender of that,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen told AP on the sidelines of a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“No news agency working in Afghanistan was targeted as part of these operations, and no guilt or innocence is presumed by our activities,” said Admiral Smith. “The operations were conducted with our Afghan partners and based on intelligence gathered over an extended period of time, focusing on insurgent propaganda networks and their affiliates.”

Meanwhile, Nato said coalition forces conducted an air strike in Kabul province yesterday, killing Qari Mansur, a senior Haqqani operator who was linked, with five of his associates, to an attack against an Afghan National Police unit earlier in the week. The Haqqani network is a Pakistan-based faction of the Taliban with close ties to al-Qaida.

Also today, a suicide bomber in a car targeted a Nato convoy on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif city in Balkh province in the north, according to deputy police chief Abdul Raouf Taj.

He said the attack only slightly damaged the convoy, but one child was killed and 28 people were wounded in a wedding party bus that was passing by. Most of the injured were women and children on their way to the wedding.

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