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Journalist unions demand release of reporters held on spying charges by Afghan spooks

JOURNALIST unions demanded the immediate release of four reporters detained on Wednesday by Afghan spooks who claimed they were spreading enemy propaganda on behalf of the Taliban.

Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, Moheb Obaidi and Sanaullah Siam were arrested in Kandahar after they had returned from the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan where they were investigating reports of a massacre.

According to the Afghan media watchdog Nai, the men were held on the orders of the National Directorate of Security.

“It is still unclear what has happened,” Nai said, explaining that three of the men worked for the local Mellat Zhagh radio network.

“It is now more than 24 hours since their detention … their families are deeply concerned.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai justified the arrests, saying: “Any kind of propaganda in favour of the terrorists and against Afghanistan’s national interest is a crime.”

But the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee called on the government to free them immediately.

“No extra-judiciary detention is acceptable,” it said.

The four were in Spin Boldak interviewing Taliban commanders after insurgents captured the border crossing with Pakistan.

It has been the scene of intense fighting, with Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui killed earlier this month after being caught in the crossfire between Taliban and Afghan government forces.

The journalists said that they were in Spin Boldak after Afghan government sources claimed that the Taliban had carried out mass executions there, which the Islamists deny.

Afghanistan has long been one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

In May, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked it 122nd out of 180 countries on its latest World Press Freedom Index.

It is unclear whether the journalists have been charged amid growing fears for their safety.

Committee to Protect Journalists regional spokesman Steven Butler called for their immediate release from custody.

“Afghan authorities must immediately release radio journalists Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, Moheb Obaidi, camera operator Sanaullah Siam, drop their investigation and cease harassing journalists for their work,” he said.

“Journalists in Afghanistan must be given full freedom to report on all aspects of the conflict without fear of arrest or harassment.”

Taliban forces claim to have seized control of around 90 per cent of the country’s border and large swathes of territory, having made rapid advances since the announcement of US troop withdrawal earlier this month.

Peace talks with the Afghan government have been taking place in Qatar, however little progress has been made.

The Islamists claimed earlier this week to want a negotiated settlement to the developing crisis, but were unclear on the details and have made no formal proposal. 

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