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Journalists banned from North Waziristan; further details emerge of journalist's death in Taliban-held area

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the death of reporter Abdul Aziz of the newspaper "Azadi" ("Independent") after being kidnapped by Taliban on 27 August 2008 in the Swat valley, in the North-West Frontier Province. He was reportedly killed two days later during an air-strike by government forces on the Taliban camp where he was being held.

"The Taliban are responsible for Aziz's death because they kidnapped him and held him in one of their camps," Reporters Without Borders said. "This tragedy highlights the very tough conditions journalists face when working in areas hit by fighting between the Taliban and the security forces."

The press freedom organisation added: "Journalists are the targets of violence and intimidation by all the belligerents in the Swat valley and the neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas. We point out that, under the Geneva Conventions, combatants are obliged to protect civilians including journalists."

It was the Taliban who announced Aziz's death. A Taliban chief, Shamsher Mullah, said Aziz was killed as a result of an air-strike on the camp by government forces. An editor of the "Azadi" staff, Mumtaz Buneri, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that Aziz was found dead in a Taliban detention centre in Peochar.

The Pakistani military denied that Aziz was killed during the air-strike. Local journalists told Reporters Without Borders that Aziz's body bore no signs of bullet or shrapnel wounds, and that he appeared to have been killed by the force of an explosion because blood had flowed from his nose, ears and mouth.

Aziz went to Peochar to talk to Taliban leaders located there and to ask why they had blacklisted him. "His name was on the Taliban list of people to be killed because he was a brave journalist who criticised Islamist militants," Buneri said.

Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the fact that the dangers for journalists are growing not only in the Swat valley but also in Bajaur and North Waziristan, in the adjoining Tribal Areas.

As a result of a military offensive in Bajaur, almost all the local journalists working there have been forced to leave the area since the start of August, along with tens of thousands of civilians, in order to escape the fighting.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a national daily correspondent who is holed up in the district of Dir said: "We could not leave our homes and it was impossible to contact anyone to get information. The Taliban have it in for us because they were used to intimidating us to get us to report what they said. When we learned that 10 Taliban had been killed, they made us say only one was killed. When the Taliban said they had killed 20 soldiers and we asked for proof, they refused to give us any ( . . . ) And their leaders used to interrogate us when our newspapers referred to them as Taliban. They portray themselves as God's fighters, as mujahideen."

Journalists working for news agencies and foreign media have been banned from North Waziristan. The ban, announced on 26 August by Ahmadullah Ahmadi, the spokesman of Taliban chief Hafiz Gul Bahadur, came at time when several news media wanted to do reports on the area in the run-up to the anniversary of 9/11.

"These people are dangerous for Islam, Muslims and the country," Ahmadi said. "But the Taliban warmly salutes journalists who are patriotic and loyal to Islam and Muslims. Those who work for agents of espionage under the cover of journalism will be severely punished."

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