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Afghanistan 3 November 2006

Italian photographer freed after being held hostage for three weeks

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the release of Italian photographer Gabriele Torsello today, three weeks after he was taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. The news was announced by the Italian NGO Emergency, which operates in the area.

Emergency said in a statement: “At around 10 a.m. (1:30 p.m. in Afghanistan) today, 3 November, the Emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah received a telephone call saying Gabriele Torsello could be found on the road to Kandahar. An Emergency team went there and took him to Italian government representatives. Emergency immediately contacted his family, the Italian foreign minister and the ambassador in Kabul.”

Torsello’s release was preceded by a phone call from Torsello to the hospital at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, which ended 10 days of silence from him and his abductors. In it, Torsello said he was “all right” but still did not know when he was going to be freed. His abductors had always preferred to communicate through the Italian-run hospital, which does not accept military protection.

In the course of the call, Torsello had also asked in a tired voice: “Where is my son? He should be taken to his grandmother’s.”

The campaign in Italy and other parts of the world on behalf of Torsello played an important role in his release. Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema said all possible channels of mediation were being used. Gen. Ismatullah, the head of all the police forces in southern Afghanistan, had recently confirmed that Torsello was still being held in Helmand province.

More than 1,300 people had signed a petition launched by Reporters Without Borders and the UK-based National Union of Journalists (of which Torsello is a member) calling for his release.

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