CNW ,September 21, 2005

Afghanistan - Journalists abducted, arrested and threatened in pre-election violence

Journalists have been targeted in violence in the run-up to elections

MONTREAL, Sept. 19 /CNW Telbec/ - Journalists have been targeted in violence in the run-up to parliamentary and provincial assembly elections on 18 September 2005.

While dozens of people have been killed, three journalists have been kidnapped, two of whom are still being held, at least two have been arrested and many others have been threatened in the past two weeks.

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about the plight of journalists Mohammad Taqi Siraj and Baseer Seerat, who have been abducted in the eastern province of Nuristan.

"While the Afghan media have played a key role in the preparations for these elections, they have been singled out for attack by Taliban groups and those linked to certain warlords," said Reporters Without Borders.

"If these attacks do not threaten the forthrightness with which the Afghan media has reported ahead of this historic poll, these outbreaks of intimidation threaten effective media coverage of voting in some Afghan regions," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Armed men seized Mohammad Taqi Siraj, editor of the weekly Bamyan and assistant director for the Kabul Film Production Company, and Baseer Seerat, cameraman for the same broadcast company, in Wigal district in the Nuristan region on 15 September. They were snatched, along with a female local official while they were making a documentary for the Afghan women's minister. A female election candidate, Hawa Alam, who is also a TV broadcaster, was injured during the kidnapping.

The kidnappers wore military uniforms but it is not known who they were or what their motives might have been.

Elsewhere henchmen for a local warlord in Jalalabad seized Ezatullah Zawab, correspondent in Nangarhar Province for Pajhwok Afghan News and editor of the local bi-monthly Meena on 2 September. He was found alive but unconscious a week later just outside the city.

At the beginning of September, the Nangarhar provincial governor summoned the correspondent in Jalalabad of an international station, who has asked not to be identified, and complained to him about a broadcast of a report on the murder of an election candidate and two police officers in the province. The governor suggested to the journalist that he could suffer the same fate as an Afghan reporter for the BBC World Service, Mirwais Jalil, who was murdered by the Mujahideen in 1994 if he did not work to promote the interests of the local authorities. Another Jalalabad journalist, Noorullah Noori, was reportedly threatened with reprisals by the authorities.

At the same time, a journalist in Takhar, in the north of the country, was sacked from his job as a result of threats issued by a local warlord.

A reporter in Kabul with the Afghan Voice Agency (AVA), Salim Wahdat, was beaten and then detained on 8 September by members of the secret service Afghan national security agency while he was covering a ceremony organised by the Afghan education minister.

Another AVA journalist, Ruhullah Jalali, was held in a secret services cell after trying to visit his detained colleague. They were both released eight hours later and after the intervention of a representative of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists' Association. Salim Wahdat said the secret service agents had accused him of taking photos for al-Qaeda.

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Responsable du bureau canadien, Reporters sans frontières, , (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771

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