Reporters Without Borders welcomes today’s release of two Al Jazeera journalists, Qais Azimy and Hameedullah Shah, who had been detained since 14 June. Their colleagues said they spent part of the time chained to a chair and were prevented from sleeping by the National Directorate of Security officials who were holding them.
Asked about their detention, President Hamid Karzai said it was because of a report “favourable to terrorism” and was not a “question of press freedom.”
Call for release of two Al Jazeera producers held by intelligence agency
Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of two Afghan journalists employed by the Qatar-based TV news station Al Jazeera, who have been held by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), an Afghan intelligence agency, in Kabul since 14 June 2009.
“Why are the intelligence services holding these two journalists incommunicado?” Reporters Without Borders asked. “If it is to punish them for an embarrassing report about the security situation, it is unacceptable. If it is to check their documents, it is totally disproportionate. We urge the intelligence services to release them without delay and stop using methods that are contrary to the rule of law.”
Qais Azimy, a producer with Al Jazeera’s English channel, was detained when he went to NDS headquarters in response to a summons. Hameedullah Shah, a producer with Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel, was arrested by NDS agents at the station’s bureau in Kabul. Their colleagues have received no word of them since then.
“No one, except the information ministry, wants to give us any information about our colleagues,” an Al Jazeera journalist in Kabul told Reporters Without Borders.
In a press release, Al Jazeera said it was very concerned about the fact that it had been unable to get in touch with the two journalists since their arrest by the Afghan intelligence services on 14 June.
The station believes that the NDS was angered by a recent Al Jazeera report containing an interview by Azimy with a Taliban commander in the northern province of Kunduz. The station says the interview was balanced by the comments of a German officer with the International Security Assistance Force.
Hamed Elmi, President Hamid Karzai’s deputy spokesman, assured Reporters Without Borders that the president had nothing to do with their arrests. “We are concerned by this situation. We contacted the information ministry this morning to obtain information about the charges against the two journalists.”
The arrests could also be linked to the theft of Shah’s press card by the Taliban. While in the Kunar region two weeks ago, Shah was detained for a day by Taliban fighters, who took his money and his papers, including the press accreditation that was issued by the Afghan president’s office.
Shah was subsequently detained for several hours by intelligence officials before leaving the region. After he and his crew returned to Kabul, Al Jazeera wrote to the president’s office to report the theft of the press card.
An experienced journalist, Azimy has been working for Al Jazeera’s English-language channel for three years. Shah has been working for its Arabic-language channel for eight months. Both have done a lot of reporting in the field.