Al-Jazeera television has demanded that NATO immediately release two of its journalists it says were arrested by coalition forces in Afghanistan this week in an effort to censor its war coverage.
The Doha-based television network said in a statement that two cameramen had been arrested as part of “an attempt by the ISAF leadership to suppress its comprehensive coverage of the Afghan war.”
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had said in a statement earlier this week that it had “captured a suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator, who participated in filming election attacks.”
Al-Jazeera named the journalists as Mohammad Nader, detained in Kandahar Province on Wednesday, and Rahmatullah Nekzed, who was arrested on Monday in Ghazni Province south of Kabul.
Kandahar Governor Toryalai Wesa confirmed Nader’s arrest, telling reporters: “We are doing our best to win his release as soon as possible.”
Al-Jazeera said ISAF had written to the network about the arrests, obliquely accusing the two men of working with the insurgency.
“The insurgents use propaganda, often delivered through news organizations as a way to influence and in many cases intimidate the Afghan population,” it quoted ISAF as saying.
“Coalition and Afghan forces have a responsibility to interdict the activities of these insurgent propaganda networks,” al-Jazeera quoted ISAF as saying.
Al-Jazeera has “strongly rejected the claims and insisted the two were innocent,” the statement said.
The network said that it would “continue to maintain its coverage on the basis of fair and impartial journalism in line with its Code of Ethics and will not bias its coverage in favor of any party or coalition despite pressures being imposed on it.”
In related news, the Pentagon confirmed that all nine troops killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week — the worst for the coalition forces in four years — were Americans, although it refused to provide further information on why the aircraft went down.
NATO said that there were no reports of enemy fire in a rugged area in the Daychopan district of Zabul Province where the crash took place on Tuesday. However, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told reporters by telephone that insurgents shot down the helicopter.
The US Defense Department released the identities of the troops late on Wednesday, saying four were sailors and the rest were soldiers.
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