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With journalist's arrest, has Afghan election season begun?

The arrest of journalist Dr. Hussain Yasa raises concerns that Afghanistan's upcoming 2014 election could see a return of intimidation by all political parties. 

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / August 1, 2012



Afghanistan's intelligence agency arrested a prominent Afghan journalist and opposition political adviser this weekend, raising questions about media and political freedom in the country ahead of expected elections and the NATO draw down in 2014. 

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The National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested and interrogated Hussain Yasa on suspicion of espionage for Pakistan, an allegation Dr. Yasa denies. He was taken in custody shortly after meeting politicians to discuss an election reform scheme.

The arrest of Yasa comes at a time when the Karzai administration is proposing changes to a mass media law that would restrict the ability of the news media to discuss issues of national security and religion. Afghanistan is entering a sensitive political season, with maneuvering among power players to shape the upcoming elections that will determine who will lead Afghanistan after most NATO troops depart. The past record of Afghan security agencies, including the NDS, of staying professional and above the political fray is not encouraging.

Candace Rondeaux, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst based in Kabul, says that the upcoming 2014 presidential elections carry the risk that multiple actors -- and not just the Karzai administration -- could use different parts of the security agencies against each other.

“There is a risk that as political competition heats up ahead of the 2014 presidential elections state resources could be used to silence rivals and critics,” Ms. Rondeaux writes in an email. “This need not be solely a Karzai run and owned enterprise; there are a number of powerful political players who are well positioned to exert their control over the parts of the security services to further their own political ambitions.”

The NDS admits to arresting, releasing, and rearresting Yasa this weekend because of what it regards as suspicious activity, including frequent visits to the Pakistani embassy.

“Dr. Hussain Yasa has been arrested and held for questioning by the NDS for his repeatedly going to and visiting the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, and especially the intelligence officer of the Pakistan Embassy,” says Lutfullah Mashal, spokesman for the NDS.

Yasa, however, maintains that he was simply participating in legitimate politics, attending a meeting of the National Front of Afghanistan at a recent meeting in Kabul. 

Yasa was held for 27 hours, and then released on bail because of his need for diabetic treatment. On Tuesday, however, he was rearrested, Mr. Mashal said, and the NDS intends to hand him over to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution on likely charges of espionage.

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