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Journalist kidnapped, IFJ concerned that dangers faced by journalists may escalate leading up to August elections

Dangers for Journalists Rise as Afghan Elections Approach

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 13, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned that the dangers faced by Afghan journalists may be escalating rapidly as Afghanistan prepares for nation-wide elections on August 20.

According to the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association (AIJA), an IFJ affiliate, a journalist from the Al-Jazeera English news channel was kidnapped in the Pitch district of Kunar province on the morning of July 12. Sadullah Sail, a correspondent with the channel, went missing as he was travelling through the district and was later confirmed by a spokesman of the Taliban Islamic militia to be in their custody.

He was released after several hours, following the intervention of the AIJA and local tribal notables.

Bordering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and long a centre of militancy, Kunar has been one of the most dangerous zones for working journalists in Afghanistan.

The IFJ joins the call by AIJA president Rahimullah Samander for all armed groups to call off their attacks on journalists and desist from taking them hostage for pecuniary or political gain.

"The IFJ is concerned that the dangers for journalism in Afghanistan emanate not merely from the armed insurgent groups, but also from state agencies unprepared to respect the basic credo of the profession," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

In mid-June, two journalists for Al-Jazeera's Arabic news channel were taken into custody by Afghanistan's National Security Directorate (NSD) after a report they prepared was held to be "in favour of terrorism".

The report was partly based on an interview with a Taliban militia leader in Kunduz province, who was quoted as saying that he had a number of suicide bombers at his disposal, ready to strike at any moment. The German commander of the NATO forces in the region was also interviewed in the report.

Qais Azimy and Hamdullah Shah were taken into custody on June 14 and held for three days, reportedly handcuffed to a chair and deprived of sleep.

Their interrogators reportedly accused them of broadcasting "fake" material and demanded to see all the material they had recorded in preparing their news reports.

"The IFJ calls on Afghanistan's President to retract damaging comments that he made on this case and to acknowledge publicly that independent journalism may bring home hard truths to him and the people of the country," White said.

"We advise the message be heeded, and condemn punishment of the messenger."
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