Afghan security personnel stand guard along the road amid fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in Kandahar on July 9, 2021. Security forces arrested four Afghan journalists. (AFP/Javed Tanveer)

Four Afghan journalists arrested after reporting from border area seized by Taliban

Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021 — Afghan authorities must immediately release journalists Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, Moheb Obaidi, and Sanaullah Siam, drop their investigation into their work, and allow members of the press to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, officials with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the country’s national intelligence service, arrested Watandoost, Soltani, and Obaidi, reporters with the Kandahar-based local radio station Millat Zagh Radio, and Siam, a camera operator with the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency, in the Shur Anadam area of the southern city of Kandahar after they returned from a reporting trip to the southern border town of Spin Boldak, according to news reports, a statement by the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, and a statement posted to Millat Zagh Radio’s Facebook page.

The four were in Spin Boldak interviewing Taliban commanders after insurgents captured the border crossing with Pakistan, according to The Associated Press. Mirwais Estanikzai, spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, said that authorities are investigating the four journalists on accusations of spreading “propaganda to the enemy,” according to the reports. CPJ was unable to determine if the four have been officially charged.

“Afghan authorities must immediately release radio journalists Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, and Moheb Obaidi, and camera operator Sanaullah Siam, drop their investigation, and cease harassing journalists for their work,” said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia’s program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Journalists in Afghanistan must be given full freedom to report on all aspects of the conflict without fear of arrest or harassment.”

Millat Zagh Radio did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and messaging app. Xinhua News Agency did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email.

CPJ emailed Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs for comment, but did not receive any response. According to Reuters, Hamid Roshan, deputy spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, said that the four ignored the National Directorate of Security’s warning to journalists not to enter Spin Boldak.

On July 16, Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in Spin Boldak, as CPJ documented at the time.