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Afghanistan 22 July 2002

Enquiry demanded into arbitrary detention by US of Pakistani journalist

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) called on the US government today to investigate the arbitrary detention of a Pakistani journalist by US forces in Afghanistan and stressed that soldiers "must respect the rights of journalists, even in war zones." "As US forces continue to make blunders in Afghanistan regarding civilians, the arrest of Pakistani journalist Hayatullah Khan is another error in their dealings with journalists," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "If he was arbitrarily detained and ill-treated, the US government must compensate him."

Hayatullah Khan, correspondent for the Pakistani daily The Nation in Mir Ali (tribal zone in the North Waziristan Agency), was held by US troops for four days, along with his two guides and his driver, in the eastern Afghan province of Paktita. He told Reporters Without Borders that he had set out on 2 July to report on the activities of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The next day, he and his team went to a US camp to interview US officers, but as he was showing his ID and press card, he was arrested, handcuffed, and put in a dirty cell two metres square. Without water, with hands tied and blindfolded, he was interrogated by US and British officers who accused him of passing on information to terrorist organisations, notably Al-Qaeda, on the basis of names and phone numbers of Afghan and Pakistani religious leaders they found in his confiscated address book. He explained they were contacts he needed to do his job as a journalist in the region. "I kept denying their charges and repeatedly told them I was a professional journalist." At one point the soldiers told him he should be "ready to die."

After some of his colleagues and the Reporters Without Borders representative in Pakistan, Iqbal Khattak, had approached US diplomats in Peshawar and Khan’s status as a journalist was confirmed to his captors, he was freed on 7 July. But as soon as he reached the Pakistani border, he was detained for by Pakistani paramilitary forces who accused him of having given the Americans information about the Pakistani army’s movements. Khan has had kidney trouble since his total of five days of detention by both groups of soldiers.

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