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Afghanistan 31 October 2005

Two more death sentences in 2001 murders of four journalists

A Kabul court has sentenced two more men to death for the murders of four journalists in 2001. They are Mahmood Zar Jan and Abdul Wahid, two brothers. The sentences will need to be confirmed by an appeal court, the supreme court and President Hamid Karzai.

A third man, Reza Khan, was already sentenced to death on 20 November 2004 for his role in the murders, in which he allegedly acted on Zar Jan’s orders. An appeal court has already confirmed his sentence.

Their four victims were Maria Grazia Cutuli of Italy, Harry Burton of Australia, Julio Fuentes of Spain and Azizullah Haidari of Afghanistan. Their mutilated bodies were found on a roadside after they were killed on 19 November 2001 while covering the fall of the Taliban regime.


Arrest of gang leader suspected of ordering killing of four journalists in 2001

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the arrest two days ago of Mahmood Zar Jan, the suspected head of the gang that killed four journalists in November 2001. "We hail this arrest with relief and we encourage the Afghan authorities to treat this case with the utmost seriousness and to bring this presumed killer to trial," the organisation said.

Zar Jan was arrested together with four accomplices on the evening of 4 June after a shootout with police in which he sustained gunshot injuries. The arrests took place in Sarobi (50 km east of Kabul), not far from where the journalists - Maria Grazia Cutuli, Harry Burton, Julio Fuentes and Azizullah Haidari - were murdered four years ago. He was transferred to Kabul yesterday.

Zar Jan is alleged to have been the main person to give the orders for the journalists to be slain. Reza Khan, a member of the gang, was convicted of participating in the murders and sentenced to death on 20 November 2004.


Man sentenced to death for murder of four journalists in 2001

An Afghan man, Reza Khan, was sentenced to death by a national security court on 20 November for his role in the murder of four journalists on 19 November 2001, a few days after the fall of the Taliban regime. Khan had made contradictory confessions. He at first admitted to killing "the oldest of the four journalists," Spanish reporter Julio Fuentes of El Mundo. He later said he had shot Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari of the news agency Reuters.

The four journalists had been stopped by a group of about 10 men while travelling on the road from the eastern city of Jalalabad to Kabul. Khan, 26, said he had acted on the orders of two local warlords, Mohammad Agha and Mahmood Zar Jan, who were never detained. Mohammad Agha was linked to the Taliban.

Observers said the trial failed to determine whether or not the murders were politically motivated. The court also convicted Khan for the murder of one of his wives and for attacking and mutilating the passengers of a bus. Khan has the right of appeal.

The imposition of the death penalty was criticised by the mother of one of the four journalists, Italian reporter Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Corriere della Sera. "We never thought that the person who killed Maria Grazia could be sentenced to death," she told the Italian news agency ANSA. "This will not bring back our daughter."


New developments in the case of four journalists murdered in 2001

Reporters Without Borders today called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene with the judicial authorities to ensure full judicial transparency in the 2001 murders of four journalists after Kabul Radio and Television (KRT) carried an interview on 3 August with one of the accused killers whose existence was previously unknown.

Reza Khan, who has apparently been detained since June on a charge of participating in the killings, acknowledged in the interview that he killed one of the journalists. He said the gang he belonged to attacked the journalists in order to rob them. This contradicts the theory that the killings were politically motivated and were carried out by the Taliban, whose regime had just fallen.

In its appeal for transparency, Reporters Without Borders called in particular for the release of the names of all the people who have been arrested, charged or convicted in the course of the investigation.

"Justice is not being done in a transparent manner, and the scant information released by the authorities does not allow us to evaluate what progress has been made in this case, which had dragged on for three years," the organisation said.

Khan said in the interview that he killed the oldest of the four journalists. This could be Julio Fuentes, a reporter with the Spanish daily El Mundo, who was 13 years older than his colleagues. Khan said he killed the journalist on the orders of Zar Jan, who he said was the leader of the 12-member gang that attacked the journalists.

Khan said the gang took orders from a Taliban chief called Maulawi Latif, but he insisted that the aim of the attack on the journalists was to rob them. The Italian supreme court, which got involved in the case because one of the victims, Maria Cutuli, was Italian, had maintained that there was a political motive.

Khan is currently charged with "banditry, robberies, murders and rapes" and faces the death penalty. It has not been reported whether any date has been set for his trial.

The interview raised many unanswered questions. Firstly, how many people have been arrested in the course of the investigation? In April 2003, the authorities announced the arrest of five suspects, two of whom had reportedly confessed their role in the killing. Since then judicial officials have released no information about the five.

The authorities have also provided no further information about Zar Jan, the gang’s alleged leader, or Mohammed Agha, identified as the one who killed the Italian journalist.

When questioned by the Associated Press (AP), an investigator with an Afghani intelligence service, Abdul Fatah, said Khan was arrested in June on the basis of information from one of his accomplices, identified as "Mahmoud," who he said had already been sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the killings. However, no further information has been released about this individual, the charges against him or the circumstances of his trial.

Background Maria Grazia Cutuli, 39, a reporter for the Italian daily Corriere della Serra, Julio Fuentes, 46, a reporter for the Spanish daily El Mundo, Harry Burton, 36, an Australian cameraman working for the British agency Reuters Video News, and Azizullah Haidari, 36, an Afghani photographer working for Reuters, were murdered on the morning of 19 November 2001 on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul.

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