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Foreign journalists face violence covering Afghan election

"When we were in that car and he was pointing that gun at us ... I thought, 'We're done. We're not getting out of here alive.'"

That's Rafal Gerszak, a Canadian freelance photographer, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor on being caught up in one of the many incidents of security forces beating, chasing, and detaining journalists in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan today. On Tuesday, the government asked the international media, as well as local journalists, to respect a request not to report on militant attacks scheduled to disrupt today's presidential election for fear of putting off the voters. Reports coming in from the foreign press corps suggest police were diligently endorsing that request, often with threats and physical violence.

"That incident began when a group of journalists visited Kabul's District Eight after an hour-long firefight between the Taliban and police," the Monitor's correspondent P.J. Tobia writes. "Within minutes, police moved through the crowd, ripping video and still cameras off the shoulders of photographers and television reporters." Tobia and Gerszak escaped detention--or worse--by fleeing police brandishing AK-47s in a car; two colleagues were subsequently detained.

And if that description isn't vivid enough, take a look at some of the images from the last few days collected on The New York Times' "Lens" blog. They include a compelling shot of journalists trying to cover an armed siege of a Kabul bank on Wednesday, an incident we mentioned in our alert yesterday.

A report from Britain's Channel Four television includes brief video of a similar encounter this morning. Journalist Alex Thomson tells of police "arresting at least eight local journalists, and one foreigner, for attempting to cover all this."

It's not all bad news. A note by Robert Mackey on another Times blog, "At War," which is updating election coverage throughout the day, reports a different reception: 

12:24 p.m. My colleague Stephen Farrell writes from Kabul to say that he had a different experience of the Afghan security forces on Thursday than the local journalist who told the BBC that some reporters were prevented from covering the aftermath of a gun battle in the capital on Thursday. Mr. Farrell writes that the Afghan security forces at the gun battle he attended--which may or may not have been the same one--"were fine with us, they let us through even though there was still shooting. Later, we and other journalists got to see them taking the bodies out of the house. It was a good outcome for them, so they were probably okay with letting us see the body bags."
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