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Afghanistan 24 September 2008

Fixer released after being held arbitrarily and mistreated by US military for 11 months

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the US military’s release of Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, who worked as a fixer and interpreter for Canadian broadcaster CTV. After being held for 11 months for having Taliban contacts, he was freed on 22 September as a result of lawsuit brought by US and Afghan human rights groups in the United States.

"The US military must yet again recognise that it abused its authority by detaining an innocent journalist," Reporters Without Borders said. "Despite having no evidence, the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq arrests and mistreats locals employed by the international media whose only crime is to work in war zones.

The press freedom organisation added : "The US government should investigate this case and at the very least compensate Ahmad. We hail the US organisations that took the decisive step of bringing a lawsuit before the US courts."

Known as Jojo Yazemi by his colleagues, Ahmad has returned to the southern city of Kandahar where his family lives. The 22-year-old journalist told Reporters Without Borders : "They obviously accused me of being a journalist. But how can you work as a reporter in southern Afghanistan without contacting the Taliban ? It is normal and it is my right."

Ahmad described his mistreatment. "After torturing me at the start, they tried to destabilise me by saying, for example, that it was my TV station, CTV, which had reported me. Those who interrogated me were American officers, I am sure, and perhaps some Canadians. The Canadian military is 50 per cent responsible for my arrest."

He added : "After this period of detention, I feel even more of a journalist than before. I am very enthusiastic about the idea of going back to work. But above all, I want justice. I want to knock on all the doors, with my lawyers, so that those who detained and tortured me are punished."

Ahmad told several news media he intended to bring a lawsuit against the US military, accusing it of detaining him arbitrarily and torturing him.

The lawsuit filed in the United States by several organisations in June called on US President George W. Bush and defence secretary Robert Gates to charge Ahmad or release him. A US officer told Agence France-Presse that Ahmad was handed over to the Afghan authorities on 22 September "under a reconciliation programme."

The US military originally claimed that Ahmad was an "illegal enemy combatant." Last February, a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, said his case was being examined by "an enemy combatant review board."

But, when releasing him, the US-led coalition forces gave him documents stating that he did not represent a "risk for the US forces in Afghanistan."

A US defence department spokesman was questioned by Reporters Without Borders several times about the case and on each occasion refused to provide any information about the reason for Ahmad’s detention.

Ahmad was arrested on 26 October 2007 by US soldiers at an airbase in Kandahar, where the Canadian journalists employing him were located. He was transferred to Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, at the start of the following month. The US military complained of the fact that he had the phone numbers of Taliban leaders in his mobile phone and had interviewed them.

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