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Kidnapping: journalists' nightmare in Afghanistan

30 june 2011, 23:13
Two French journalists held for a year and a half in the badlands of Afghanistan were only the latest in a succession of reporters to endure terrifying kidnap ordeals in the anarchic country, AFP reports.

The French government announced the release of France 3 television journalists Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere on Wednesday after 18 months of captivity by the Taliban.

They were seized with three Afghan colleagues on December 30, 2009 in the mountainous province of Kapisa, east of Kabul, where the Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami faction of mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar hold sway.

According to the US-based non-profit organisation Committee to Protect Journalists, "at the very least" 21 journalists have been abducted in Afghanistan since 2001, when US-led troops invaded to bring down the Taliban.

Seven of these were foreign journalists travelling with Afghan colleagues.

Western news organisations in Afghanistan are highly conscious of the importance of protecting their journalists in such a dangerous country. But some reporters do still fall into the hands of insurgents.

In September 2009, New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell and his Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi were kidnapped in the northern province of Kunduz.

Farrell, a British-Irish journalist, was freed in a special forces operation but Munadi, a British soldier and two civilians were killed in the raid.

They were accused of ignoring official advice not to enter an area where a NATO air strike had recently killed scores of people, sparking fury among locals.

Fellow New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped in November 2008 in Logar, just south of Kabul, and was smuggled into Pakistan's neighbouring tribal belt before he managed to escape seven months later.

"Over those seven months, I came to a simple realisation," he wrote after his ordeal. "After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become."

Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, who was released in September 2010 after being held for five months, said he used Twitter to announce he was still alive under the noses of his captors, who did not understand English.

He went missing in the north in April 2010 and later said he had been held hostage by a military faction called Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), which is allied with the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Tsuneoka, a convert to Islam, said his guards were friendly and gave him three meals a day but were "dreadfully uneducated" and that "even their knowledge of Islamic teaching was very poor".

In 2008, Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung from public broadcaster CBC was held hostage for four weeks and said she was freed in a prisoner swap arranged by Afghan intelligence for the family of her abductors.

Fung was kidnapped in Kabul on October 12 and held captive in a hole in the ground for 28 days, sometimes chained and blindfolded.

Figures for Afghan reporters kidnapped or killed are worse still, the CPJ said.

"By far, the locals pay the worst price. CPJ data shows that just about 90 percent of the journalists killed are local journalists covering local stories," Bob Dietz, coordinator of CPJ's Asia programme, said.

The worst case for Afghans was the 2007 beheading of Ajmal Naqshbandi, an Afghan reporter and interpreter who was left behind when an Italian journalist hostage was freed.

He was apparently killed because the government refused to free senior insurgents from prison.

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