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Pakistani News Crew Detained by Taliban for Over 10 Days


FILE - Taliban fighters search a car at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2021.

Late last month, Muhammad Iqbal Mengal traveled from Pakistan to Afghanistan to report on the Taliban takeover. But just a few days after arriving in Kabul, the journalist and his colleague were detained.

Members of the Taliban held Mengal and photojournalist Shehzad Ahmed for more than 10 days. The pair, who work for the Pakistani broadcaster 92 News, were released after the Pakistan embassy and journalism organizations intervened.

In an interview with VOA’s Urdu Service, Mengal described how Taliban fighters tied him and Ahmed up, before blindfolding and questioning them.

“They kept asking if we are spies and where did we come from?” Mengal said.

Mengal said that when they entered Afghanistan it was not possible to get a visa from government officials, but he spoke with a Taliban official who said the journalist could come to the country and that the Taliban would give him a permit.

The journalists, who are based in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan in Pakistan, arrived in the Afghan border area of Spin Boldak on August 18—three days after the Taliban took control of the country’s capital.

“I wanted to cover the ground realities. I wanted the world to know what’s happening on the ground in Afghanistan and speak to [local] people,” Mengal said.

He and Ahmed reported from Kandahar and Herat before heading to Kabul.

On August 28, the journalists were reporting on the aftermath of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport. But when they tried to visit the emergency room of a city hospital, members of the Taliban blocked them.

“They said, we can't enter the hospital or cover the outside scenes because upper leadership doesn't allow it,” he said.

The journalists left the hospital but Mengal said they got lost and so approached a Taliban checkpoint for help.

Mengal said the Taliban fighters asked the journalists to come to a nearby office. But, he said, “They found us suspicious and took our mobile phones away. They started to search us and found Pakistani ID cards on us which made them more suspicious.”

After that, the journalists had their hands tied, were blindfolded and taken away for investigation.

At least 14 journalists have been detained briefly by the Taliban since August 15, according to media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists. Some of those detained said they were beaten.

The arrests have cast doubt on Taliban promises that media will be allowed to operate freely, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement.

“We urge the Taliban to live up to those earlier promises, to stop beating and detaining reporters doing their job, and allow the media to work freely without fear of reprisal,” Butler said.

A Taliban spokesperson has said the beatings will be investigated.

Many of the arrests took place as media covered protests by women calling for their rights to be protected.

The spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called on Taliban to allow Afghans to exercise their rights.

In a September 10 statement, the spokesperson called on the group “to immediately cease the use of force toward, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests.”

Mengal and Ahmed of 92 News were finally released on September 9 without charge.

“Our [news] channel, friends, and family even the embassy in Kabul and journalist organizations, all came together to help us and that's how we got rescued,” Mengal said.

This story originated in VOA’s Urdu Service.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include more detail on how the journalists entered Afghanistan.