Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Reporter Intimidated Over Alleged War Crimes Video

Journalist in northern Afghanistan accuses followers of General Dostum of abducting and assaulting him for alleged theft of incriminating video.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

A journalist in northern Afghanistan, Islamuddin Mayel, says he feels he is in danger after he was briefly imprisoned and threatened following accusations that he stole a videotape apparently implicating the troops of General Abdul Rashid Dostum in war crimes.


The tape is thought to contain footage subsequently used in a documentary, Massacre in Mazar, made by Irish journalist Jamie Doran. The film has not been given wide distribution but has been given small-scale screenings to select audiences in Europe, the first time in June 2002.


Doran’s film proved highly controversial because it alleged that United States forces were complicit in abuses which followed an unsuccessful uprising by Taleban at the Qala-ye-Jangi fortress in Balkh province. The film includes footage that it says shows captives who survived the re-capture of the fortress but who were then killed after being taken by Dostum’s forces to Dasht-e-Erganak, a desert area east of Mazar-e-Sharif.


It also claims that US special forces were present during the killings. Speaking before the film was shown on the major German TV channel ARD in December 2002, US State Department spokesman Larry Schwartz condemned the film as “a documentary in which the facts are completely wrong and which unfairly depicts the US mission in Afghanistan”.


Mayel, one of many cameramen employed by Dostum in 2001, denies taking or selling any tape from the general’s personal film archive.


Now a reporter with Balkh Radio and Television’s Uzbek service based in Mazar-e-Sharif , Mayel told IWPR that armed supporters of Dostum abducted him on October 21 from his home near the city. The men took him to a private prison in Jowzjan province, where he was interrogated and tortured for 10 days. He was released on October 31.


Jowzjan province is one of the main bases for militias linked to Dostum. The general, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Afghan presidency on October 9, still leads the militarised political faction Junbesh-e-Milli-ye-Islami.


The cassette Mayel is alleged to have stolen is said to contain footage showing men under Dostum’s command carrying out mass killings of hundreds of captured Taleban troops at the end of 2001-both at Qala-ye-Jangi, which was used as the main army base for Dostum and his 8th Corps as well as a prison, and Dasht-e-Erganak.


It is alleged that Mayel sold the video material to Najibullah Quraishi, another Balkh television reporter, who supplied it to independent journalist Doran.


Quraishi fled the country after the film was aired in Europe, and is believed to be a refugee in Britain. He has alleged, on Dutch TV, that he was tortured by pro-Dostum men for selling the video to Doran.


Mayel told IWPR that while he was held in Jowzan he admitted to his captors to selling a cassette for 130,000 US dollars. But he said he only made the admission under threat and psychological pressure, and in reality had nothing to do with such a transaction.


The reporter said he can be seen in several sequences of the documentary, shooting video film with his camera.


"I filmed the mass killing in Dasht-e-Erganak and Qala-ye-Jangi. Seven other cameramen also took films of the Qala-e-Jangi incident, and all the tapes are in Dostum's archive,” he said.


"Dostum wanted to terrorise me because I am aware of all his secrets."


Mayal was a camaraman for Dostum from 2001 up until May 2004, when he joined Balkh Radio and Television.


In an interview with IWPR, Mayel talked about the circumstances of his kidnapping and why he believes that Dostum’s men were his captors.


"On October 21 at approximately 2 pm, eight armed men affiliated with General Dostum entered my house,” he said. “After searching all the rooms, they took away lots of my video cassettes and reporting equipment including a minidisc recorder, and put me in a vehicle. When they left the security belt around Mazar-e-Sharif they tied my hands and blindfolded me."


Mayel said that before he was blindfolded he saw General Samad, Dostum's personal security chief, in the vehicle he was being taken away in. Once the vehicle left Mazar he was brought to a private, not government-run, prison in Jowzjan.


He condemned his kidnappers for looting his private and family collection of videotapes and threatening to kill him while he was held captive.


He said he would have been as good as dead if BBC Radio hadn’t interviewed his son about the abduction, "If my son's interview with BBC radio had not been aired, they would have planned to kill me that night."


Mayel’s son Ismail had told the network on October 31 that his father had been abducted by Dostum's men.


Mayel said that once the case was publicised and the head of the Mazar-e-Sharif police was informed, Mayel was handed over to Mazar's national security department, which deals with political issues, on October 31, and held in a government jail for one day, before he was released on November 1.


This reporter witnessed Mayel emerging from the government jail on November 1, with visible metal ring marks around his feet and a bandaged foot. The reporter interviewed him later that day.


Faizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Dostum, told IWPR that Mayel was arrested by Jowzjan security officials for selling a videotape from Dostum’s personal archive. According to Zaki, Mayel was then detained in a Jowzjan province prison run by the government.


Zaki said the arrest was carried out with cooperation from Balkh province police.


However General Mohammad Akram Khakrizwal, the head of police headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, told IWPR he had not been informed in advance of any such arrest, and described it as an abduction.


"We can call this action kidnapping, which was carried out without the consultation of the local police," he said.


General Majid Azemi, who heads the national security service - or secret police - in Balkh province, says that even if it were true that Mayel sold the tape, the security service would not view it as a crime offence.


"The sale of videos is common all over the world, and is not regarded as a crime," he told IWPR.


Although the police and security forces have developed in most parts of Afghanistan, Mayel’s abduction suggests that they are unable to adequately deal with crime and security issues. Mayel's kidnapping took place within 50 metres of a police security post, but local police were unaware of the kidnapping when it happened.


The incident has also only reinforced speculation that General Dostum, despite claims that he is now a purely political leader, still has considerable influence, if not command over militia forces. Afghanistan’s political party law says it’s illegal for parties to wield military force, but Junbesh has traditionally been closely linked to northern militias.


Mayel lives in Kod-o-Barq, a residential area located 20 kilometres west of Mazar, known for fertiliser production and power generation. The area was controlled by supporters of General Dostum prior to May 2004, but the national police officially took over responsibility for security in the area after that.


Mayel said that since his abduction he has hired bodyguards - but he doesn't feel safe in Afghanistan any more.


"While I was in custody I experienced physical torture as well as immoral acts, and when I get out of Afghanistan, I will disclose all the facts that I cannot speak about now," he said.


Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.