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Taliban briefly detains EU commissioner, 18 others

reporter struck September 29, 1997
Web posted at: 6:24 a.m. EDT (1024 GMT)

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A European Union commissioner and 18 other people, including CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, were arrested by the Taliban religious army Monday for apparently filming women while touring a hospital. All were released unharmed after about three hours in custody.

Emma Bonino, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, was touring a Kabul women's hospital when she and the rest of her party were arrested. Videotape taken during the arrests shows at least one person being struck.

Taliban arrest journalists and EU members for videotaping at hospital
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"All of them, had Kalashnikovs [automatic rifles], and were fully armed," Bonino said. "They were beating our people on their backs with their Kalashnikovs. They were shouting and I had the feeling that no one was in charge."

According to Amanpour, the police were "enraged by the presence of news cameras."

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"The incident quickly spun out of control, in that they called in more reinforcements. At gunpoint, they arrested the entire group and took them to the central police station," she said.

Since gaining control of the capital one year ago the Taliban, which controls the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan, has imposed harsh restrictions on women, banning them from the work force, closing schools for girls and forcing them to wear the head-to-toe covering called a burqa.

Bonino said Taliban officials made several phone calls while the group was detained, finally releasing the group once someone in authority gave written permission for the release.

A Taliban security official said that the arrests followed complaints from hospital officials. "It is the policy of the Taliban that no unrelated man may take pictures of women," said Hajji Habibullah. "They were brought in for this offense. The head of the hospital came to complain to us that they were taking pictures."

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In the war-shattered Afghan capital, where the Taliban's strict version of Islamic rule has been imposed, it is a crime to take photographs of anyone, but it is particularly offensive to them if pictures of women are taken.

Amanpour, however, complained the Taliban rules are not clearly defined.

"Nobody knows exactly what the rules are," Amanpour said. "Sometimes you're allowed to take pictures, sometimes you're not."

"This is an example of how people live here, in a situation of random terror," Bonino said. "Our colleagues from the media stopped immediately, and they were willing to give back the tape. Nevertheless, all of the delegation was taken into custody for a few hours."

"This is the situation that our partners here face every day, that rules are changing, but they are not being written or communicated," Bonino said. "I have the feeling that sometimes these groups of religious authorities driving around are applying their own rule that nobody knows what it is."

Kabul is largely dependent on international humanitarian aid, but has resisted international oversight. Bonino, the highest-ranking Western official to visit Kabul since the Taliban took control of the capital just over a year ago, was in the city at the request of Taliban officials.

After her release, Bonino kept a planned meeting with the Taliban foreign affairs minister. She was set to leave the country as scheduled Monday afternoon.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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