The journalists – three reporters from Nation Voice [Millat Ghag] Radio, Bismillah Watandost, Qudratullah Sultani, and Mohibullah Obaidi; and Sanullah Siam who claimed to be working with China’s Xinhua news agency – were arrested after they visited the Spin Boldak border crossing last week after it had been seized by the Taliban.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the NDS said the reporters met and interviewed Taliban leaders and Pakistan spy agency (ISI) officials – including Mullah Gul Agha and Mawlavi Manzor Taliban spy chiefs; General Mobin and Faizullah, two members of ISI; and Mullah Yaqoob, the son of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
The meeting reportedly took place in the house of former Kandahar Police Chief General Abdul Raziq Spin Boldak in Kandahar province.
The NDS stated that the reporters wanted to “purify” the Taliban and “to ignore the inhuman acts of this terrorist group in some provinces of the country, especially the tragic events in Spin Boldak region so as to direct the public opinion in favor of the Taliban.”
The NDS stated that the Nation Voice [Millat Ghag] Radio Station was illegally operating as it has no license from the Ministry of Culture and Information.
Meanwhile, Xinhua rejected Sanaullah Siam’s claim that he was working for the news agency.
“Hereby Xinhua denies the claim made by Mr. Sayam (Siam) as Sayam is not the employee of Xinhua. In the meantime, Xinhua confirms that Mr. Sayam as a freelancer used to sell his products and Xinhua like other news agencies sometimes used to buy photos from him, and buying photos in no way means that Sayam is Xinhua’s staff,” the agency said in a statement.
The NDS stated that Siam was illegally operating under Xinhua’s name.
“Recently, Bismillah Watandost had a mission to make contact with Kandahar governor and encourage him to hand over the province to the Taliban so that they (Taliban) hold Eid prayers in the Kandahar government compound; therefore, Kandahar governor in a letter urged the Kandahar NDS directorate office to arrest these reporters,” the NDS claimed.
This comes after human rights and media freedom advocates last week called on authorities in Afghanistan to release the four journalists.
But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement late Friday that “as the Afghan conflict escalates, all parties seem intent on silencing the country’s media.”
“Unless charged with a genuine crime, the four journalists should be released immediately,” the statement read.
Reports indicate that the four traveled to the district to investigate reports of Afghan civilian killings by Taliban insurgents.
According to HWR, Siam is a free-lance cameraman.
“The arrests …underscore rising concerns the Afghan government is trying to shield itself from media criticism. Among the many threats they face, Afghanistan’s embattled journalists should not also have to face prosecution for doing their jobs,” said HWR.