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Reporters Without Borders and the UK-based National Union of Journalists (NUJ) today appealed for an active campaign, especially by Italian journalists, for the release of Italian freelance photographer Gabriele Torsello, who could be killed by the people holding him hostage in Afghanistan.
“A journalist is neither a spy nor a bargaining chip,” the two organisations said. “We call on the Afghan and Italian authorities, and all those who might be able to contact his abductors, to do everything possible to help bring about his release. And we reject the kind of blackmail that endangers a journalist whose sole aim was to cover what life is like for the Afghan population.”
A petition in French, English, Spanish, Italian, Farsi and Arabic can be downloaded from the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org).
Reporters Without Borders has not forgotten the terrible execution-style murder of Italian freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni in Iraq in August 2004. There was no significant campaign for his release following his abduction. If there had been one, it might have saved his life.
Torsello’s abductors yesterday said they would release him if an Afghan convert to Christianity who sought asylum in Italy were returned to Afghanistan within four days (by the evening of 21 October). The identity of his kidnappers is still unknown.
Torsello was kidnapped by five gunmen as he was travelling by bus from Lashkar Gah to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on 12 October. Since then, he has been in telephone contact several times with personnel at a hospital in Lashkar Gah run by the Italian NGO Emergency.
A freelance journalist who has visited many parts of the world over the past ten years, Torsello had been travelling within Afghanistan for several months wearing a black beard and Afghan clothes. Married and the father of one child, he is a Muslim convert whose home is now in London.