Afghan journalist detained at Bagram Air Base

New York, February 18, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the detention of Canadian Television (CTV) journalist Jawed Ahmad by U.S. military forces at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, for almost three months without charge.

Ahmad, who is also known as Jojo Yazemi and is about 22 years old, was detained in Kandahar at the end of October 2007, according to his brother, Siddique Ahmad. Siddique, who spoke with CPJ through a translator by phone from Afghanistan, said that he had last communicated with his detained brother via a video link provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul on January 29. CTV officials say they believe Ahmad was detained on October 25, which was when Siddique called correspondent Paul Workman, Ahmad’s colleague near Kandhahar, to tell him of his detention.

“We are deeply troubled that Jawed Ahmad has been secluded in a U.S. military base for nearly three months without charge,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The United States military must explain the reason for his detention and accord him due process. If he is not charged with any crime then he must be released immediately.”

Siddique told CPJ that Ahmad said he was called to meet his CTV colleagues at Kandahar airport and then arrested. It is unclear who called him. CTV confirmed that Workman was in Kandahar at the time, but said that the correspondent had not planned to meet with Ahmad on that day. Ahmad told Siddique that he was being held because the U.S. military believed he had contacts with local Taliban leaders and was in possession of a video of Taliban materials, Siddique said.

CTV expressed their concern that their efforts on Ahmad’s behalf have not resulted in his release. “Since his disappearance in late October, CTV News has been deeply concerned about Jojo Yazemi’s whereabouts and well being. CTV News has made inquires to NATO, Canadian, and U.S. military officials. No information has been forthcoming. CTV News has also made representations to the International Committee of the Red Cross and diplomatic channels including the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan,” Robert Hurst, president of CTV News, told CPJ in an e-mail message.

Lt. Col. Mark Wright, on the Press Operations, Afghanistan Desk, at the U.S. Department of Defense, responded to a CPJ e-mail request Friday, saying that he had recently learned of Ahmad’s case but would have to investigate further. So far, the Department of Defense has not provided any follow-up information.

Ahmad had only worked in journalism for one year, according to New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall, who knows both him and Siddique from her reporting trips to Kandahar. “All of the local press corps have numbers of the Taliban and interview them regularly,” she told CPJ. “Jawed had nothing more than the others in the way of contacts with the Taliban,” she said.

Gall said Ahmad had also worked before that as a translator for the U.S. military and later for a security company in Kandahar. “I have known him for some years from my many reporting trips to Kandahar. Jawed is well known among the local Kandahar press corps, as is Siddique, who worked sometimes as a driver for journalists staying at the Continental Guesthouse in Kandahar,” Gall said in a message to CPJ.