Jazeera staff held for "promoting terrorism": Karzai

KABUL (Reuters) - Two Al Jazeera journalists who were freed Wednesday after three nights’ detention were held because the Afghan authorities believed their work promoted terrorism, President Hamid Karzai said.

Qais Azimy, a producer on the network’s English-language channel, and Hameedullah Shah, a producer on its Arabic station were freed Wednesday after being held since Sunday afternoon by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The Qatar-based station has said it believed the authorities may have been upset by a broadcast last week showing what it said were Taliban fighters in the northern province of Kunduz.

“Freedom of the press is respected and allowed and guaranteed by Afghan law. But promotion of terrorism in the name of the freedom of the press is a violation of the press and freedom of the press,” Karzai told a news conference, responding to a question from an Al Jazeera correspondent.

“This government is a democratic, institutionalized government...but the story that Al Jazeera produced from Kunduz is something we must pay attention to,” he said.

Karzai said he hoped the two men, who to date have not been charged with any wrongdoing, were innocent of the accusations: “Even then, the journalists are free and I hope our case was wrong and their case was right.”

The Al Jazeera report showed a group of armed men gathered in a yard and concealing their faces. The station said the men were Taliban fighters in Kunduz, a province in the north that is considered one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

Shah was picked up by NDS officers from outside the station’s office in Kabul Sunday, while Azimy had gone to NDS headquarters after being invited for what he believed would be an interview, the station said earlier.

Spokesmen for the NDS and Afghanistan’s Information Ministry have repeatedly declined to comment on the case.

Western rights groups have expressed concern about protections for journalists in Afghanistan, where many have been killed and others say they have been harassed or intimidated by the authorities.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Peter Graff and Jon Boyle