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Afghanistan 26 March 2007

Calls for release of Afghan journalist and fixer Adjmal Nasqhbandi, now entering fourth week in captivity, while homage paid to slain colleague Sayed Agha

(JPEG)

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call for the release of La Repubblica correspondent Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan fixer, Adjmal Nasqhbandi, who today begins his fourth week in captivity in southern Afghanistan. Many appeals for his release have been issued in Afghanistan and Italy in the past few days.

The press freedom organisation said it also paid homage to Mastrogiacomo’s driver, Sayed Agha, whose body has still not been returned to his family.

"There is no justification for continuing to hold Nasqhbandi or for refusing to return Agha’s body," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is clear the Taliban have already obtained a great deal in this tragic affaire. Mullah Dadullah’s attitude and his threat to kidnap other journalists run counter to the undertakings given by other Taliban leaders towards the press. We condemn Dadullah’s behaviour and statements, which pose a serious threat to Afghan and foreign journalists working in the south of the country."

A journalist aged 25, Nasqhbandi has reportedly been held by Dadullah’s men ever since Mastrogiacomo, Agha and he were taken prisoner in Helmand province on 5 March. Dadullah himself told Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai that Nasqhbandi was still being held, adding that "the Karzai government was only interested in the Italian." Taliban spokesmen have demanded the release of more Taliban prisoners in exchange for Nasqhbandi.

According to some accounts, however, the Afghan security forces could now be holding Nasqhbandi and Rahmatullah Hanefi, manager of "Emergency" hospital. Mastrogiacomo said he thought Nasqhbandi was released at the same time as he was, but was placed in a different vehicle. A Taliban chief also told an Afghan journalist that, if he wanted news of Nasqhbandi, he should ask the government in Kabul. Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to respond to these allegations.

On 23 March, Mastrogiacomo and the editor of La Repubblica appealed for the release of Nasqhbandi, whose photo is to be displayed outside the Rome city hall. The Italian journalists’ organisation "Fourth Power" (www.quartopotere.org) also issued a call for his release yesterday. In Kabul, one of his brothers appealed for his release, saying the only news he had received of him was a video message dated 12 March in which he said he was well and had been arrested for "entering a Taliban region without permission."

Mullah Dadullah’s men have meanwhile demanded the release of a Taliban chief, Mulluh Janaan, in exchange for the body of Agha, Mastrogiacomo’s driver. Members of Agha’s family went to Garmseer, a village in Helmand province, to recover his body, and were stopped and turned back by Taliban. Aged 25, Agha often worked as a driver and fixer for foreign journalists in Helmand province, including Tom Coghlan of the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Coghlan paid the following tribute to Agha: "Sayed Agha was a gentle, witty and deeply likeable young man. (...) It was access quite impossible to achieve without the tribal connections and guarantees that a local man like Sayed was able to provide. But with his work came a great level of risk. His willingness to take such risks is something that was hard to understand. I can only assume he found what he did exciting, and unlike many people in the south of Afghanistan he seemed to have a genuine liking for, and interest in, foreign "infidels". But while the journalist coming in accepts a level of danger, we can leave again for the safety of the capital Kabul. For men like Sayed, becoming known as someone who works with foreigners is a permanent threat to their lives. Sayed was not ignorant of this, but nor did he ever attempt to limit what the reporters he worked with asked of him. When for instance we spent a day together following a poppy eradication team, it was only afterwards that he told me that he believed that his car would now be unusable in that district because it would be suspected of government connections. In rural Helmand few unfamiliar faces escape notice for long. His powerful tribal connections and personal friendships with people within local Taliban groups offered a level of protection. But as he admitted himself, if the wrong people got hold of us, there would be nothing he could do. Sadly it was the wrong people who took him, Daniele Mastrogiacomo and their translator two weeks ago. Mullah Dadullah Akhund is the best known and most feared Taliban commander operating in the south. He has been compared to the Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi for his extremist beliefs, psychopathic savagery and love of self-promotion. It is a measure of Dadullah’s character that Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, sacked him as commander of Taliban forces in Bamiyan in 1998 because his behaviour towards the Shia Muslim Hazara people of the region, whom Dadullah considered heretics, was too brutal even for Omar’s tastes. (...) Dadullah and his cohorts chose to release Mastrogiacomo, which was very welcome news. But despite the efforts of Sayed’s Afghan friends and family to intercede with Dadullah on his behalf, the Taliban announced last Friday that Sayed Agha had been beheaded."

Mastrogiacomo was released on 19 March in exchange for five Taliban, including a brother to Mullah Dadullah.


21.03.2007

Mullah Dadullah asked to release Italian journalist’s fixer

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its support for the Afghan journalists’ groups who are calling on Mullah Dadullah to free Adjmal Nasqhbandi, the guide and fixer of La Repubblica correspondent Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was himself released by the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand on 19 March.

"This case will not be over until Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan guide has been freed and the family of his murdered driver have obtained justice," the press freedom organisation said. "The Taliban no longer have any reason to hold Nasqhbandi, who was just accompanying Mastrogiacomo. The Italian and Afghan authorities have a duty to keep trying to obtain his release. His life is just as precious as Mastrogiacomo’s. We are also very worried about the way Mastrogiacomo was freed, and the implications it could have for foreign and Afghan journalists working in Afghanistan."

Together with Nasqhbandi’s family, Afghan journalists’ organisations yesterday demonstrated outside the information ministry in Kabul to demand his release. Naskhbandi has worked as a fixer for visiting La Repubblica journalists for nearly four years. His father, Ghulam Haidar, said: "It is not fair. They freed five Taliban to get the Italian released, but they will not free a single Taliban to get my son released."

Rahimullah Samander, the head of a journalists’ organisation, condemned the way Mastrogiacomo was freed and the consequences this could have for journalists in Afghanistan. "We fear that journalists will increasingly become targets for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda," he told Agence France-Presse.

Around 100 relatives and friends of Sayed Agha, the driver whose throat was cut by the Taliban, yesterday demonstrated outside a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, which is run by an Italian doctor who participated in the negotiations. They accused the Afghan government of ignoring the driver and guide. "President Karzai spoke about the Italian yesterday but said nothing about the Afghan driver" an uncle of Agha said. "No one tried to get him released."

Mastrogiacomo has described his driver’s execution in La Repubblica. "I can still see it in my mind," he wrote. "I got up. Four men seized the driver and pushed his head into the sand. They sliced his throat until his head had been cut off. I though my turn had come. They cleaned the knife on his coat. They attached the head to the body and then took it and threw it in a river."

Mastrogiacomo was released in exchange for five Taliban, including some of the organisation’s spokesmen.


19.03.2007

Italian journalist freed in exchange for five Taliban

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders today said it was deeply relieved to learn that Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo was released a few hours before the second deadline expired.

"The initiatives undertaken on Mastrogiacomo’s behalf in Italy and Afghanistan contributed to this fortunate outcome," the press freedom organisation said. "Nonetheless, it is regrettable that his release came about only after the death of his Afghan driver and the release of Taliban prisoners. We call on the Taliban leaders, especially Mullah Dadullah, to once and for all abandon attacks on the press and kidnappings of journalists, which are contrary to humanitarian law."

Shortly after being set free, Mastrogiacomo this afternoon reached a hospital run by Italian doctor Gino Strada in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand. "He arrived a free man and he is very well," said Strada, who played a key role in the negotiations. The Italian foreign ministry and Mastrogiacomo’s newspaper, La Repubblica, confirmed that he had been released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners who included Taliban spokesmen.

The Taliban had threatened to killed Mastrogiacomo, 52, if they did not obtain the release of some of their members held in Afghanistan. His driver was killed after the first deadline expired. Yesterday, the Taliban said they had placed him in the custody of tribal chiefs.

Mastrogiacomo and his guide were abducted in Helmand province on 4 March while he was gathering information for a story on this region, where the Taliban control several districts.


18.03.2007

Taliban say they have handed over italian journalist daniele mastrogiacomo and his afghan guide

The Taliban said today they have handed over Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his Afghan guide Ajmal to intermediaries under the protection of tribal chiefs.

Spokesman for the Taliban, Yussuf Ahmadi, said the two men were placed in the hands of the intermediaries following the release of two of their leaders, but their release would not be finalised until a third Taliban prisoner was set free.

The spokesman did not mention the journalist’s Afghan driver, Sayed Agha, whose “execution” was announced on 16 March.

The foreign ministry in Italy did not confirm the journalist’s release. “We will only consider him to be free once he is safely in Italian hands,” the ministry spokesman said.


15.03.2007

Taliban execute kidnapped Italian journalist’s driver

Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled by today’s announcement by the Taliban that Sayed Agha, the Afghan driver of kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, was executed by their abductors.

Agha was “executed after being found guilty of spying,” Mulluh Dadullah’s spokesman told the Afghan news agency Pajhwok.

“We appeal again to the Italian authorities and the journalistic community throughout the world to step up efforts to save the lives of Mastrogiacomo and his guide, Ajmal,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Another of Mullah Dadullah’s spokesmen, Yussuf Ahmadi, today said “the deadline has expired.” But at the same time he said the Taliban have told the Italian authorities they are prepared to extend the negotiations.


15 March 2007

Mastrogiacomo asks Italian government to save him in video released by taliban

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders called today for the unconditional release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo after a video of him recorded on 12 March was sent yesterday by the Taliban to Emergency, an Italian NGO based in southern Afghanistan. It shows him urging the Italian government to do everything possible to obtain his freedom.

"We call on everyone to take action to save Mastrogiacomo, who is being used as a bargaining chip by a Taliban chief," Reporters Without Borders said. "He is not a spy and he is not responsible for his country’s policies. He should be freed unconditionally."

In an appeal apparently orchestrated by Mullah Dadullah, La Repubblica’s correspondent says in Italian in the video: "My name is Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Today is March 12 and it is eight in the morning here in Afghanistan. I am okay. I am sure everything will turn out fine. Do everything you can as I have just two days left."

He appears tired and strained in the video. A check scarf covers his head and he speaks in a monotone. He is ordered to speak by a man who stays out of the light. A Taliban spokesman, Shahabuddin Atal, told the Afghan news agency that the man next to Mastrogiacomo in the video is Dadullah. The spokesman also said the Italian government was putting its citizens’ lives in danger by refusing to withdraw its troops, which is one of Dadullah’s requests.

Part of the video can be viewed on La Repubblica’s website: http://tv.repubblica.it/home_page.p...


14.03.2007

Large photo of kidnapped journalist installed on facade of Milan city hall

(JPEG) Milan municipal council president Manfredi Palmeri and Reporters Without Borders Italy vice-president Domenico Affinito today installed a gigantic photo of abducted Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo on the facade of the Milan city hall. About 100 people attended the ceremony and called for the release of Mastrogiacomo, who was kidnapped in southwestern Afghanistan 10 days ago along with his two guides.

A message from Sailab Mehsud, the president of Pakistan’s Union of Tribal Journalists, was read out by the Reporters Without Borders representative during the ceremony. "We call on the Taliban of Afghanistan to free journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo of La Repubblica in the name of Islam and humanity," Mehsud said. "Islam does not authorise anyone to put an innocent man in danger. He is a journalist. And definitely not a spy."

Mastrogiacomo’s photo will continue to be displayed on the city hall until he is released.

In Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province where Mastrogiacomo was kidnapped, some 30 journalists demonstrated on 12 March to demand his release. "I knew the Italian journalist," said Hejran, the local correspondent of a privately-owned Afghan TV station. "He was not a spy and he made it his job to transmit the voices of one culture to another."

Rahimullah Samander, the president of the Association of Independent Afghan Journalists, issued an appeal in Kabul on 12 March for the Taliban to release Mastrogiacomo. "We are worried about what will happen to him and about the increasingly difficult circumstances in which Afghan journalists have to work." The correspondent of the independent news agency Pajhwok in the eastern province of Lowgar was recently arrested.

In Geneva, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression Ambeyi Ligabo also issued a call for Mastrogiacomo’s release, describing him as a journalist who was "renowned for his reporting on the tragedies of war in the different regions of the world in conflict."

A Taliban spokesman yesterday told an AFP journalist that Mastrogiacomo was being held in Taliban camps and was in good health, and that indirect contacts had been established with the Italian authorities.


12.03.2007

Italians rally to calls for release of kidnapped journalist

More and more people in Italy are demonstrating their support for calls for the release of La Repubblica journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, whose kidnappers issued a second message with demands on 10 March.

Ala al-din al-Ghoobashi, the imam of the Rome mosque, the Pakistani community in Italy, entertainment and sports personalties such as football start Francesco Totti and Nobel literature laureate Dario Fo are among those who have appealed for his release.

More than 47,000 people have already signed the petition issued by La Repubblica’s staff: http://www.repubblica.it/speciale/2007/appelli/mastrogiacomo/

In Afghanistan, the Italian ambassador held a news conference in which he called for Mastrogiacomo’s release. Italian journalists working in Afghanistan issued a statement saying he should be freed and stressing that he had just been doing his job, which is to report the news.

Meanwhile, a new audio message believed to have come from Mullah Dadullah, the head of the Taliban group that kidnapped Mastrogiacomo, contained a threat to kill him within seven days if the Italian government did not set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. It came just days after the lower house of the Italian parliament voted on 8 March to keep 2,000 soldiers in the country.

The Taliban are also calling for the release of two Taliban spokesmen, Abdul Latif Hakimi, who has been held in Pakistan for nearly a year and half, and Mohammad Hanif, who was arrested Afghanistan in January. The Taliban spokesman said the authorities have until 16 March to comply.

The Italian authorities have called on the kidnappers to produce proof that Mastrogiacomo is still alive. The government has also called on the media not to disseminate any reports that have not been confirmed on the grounds that this could jeopardise future negotiations.


Mullah Dadullah accuses Italian journalist Mastrogiacomo and his Afghan guides of spying

A Taliban military chief, Mullah Dadullah, confirmed his forces are holding Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, in an audio message to Afghan and Pakistani journalists, and accused him and his Afghan guides Ajmal and Ghulam Haidar of spying for British forces. The Taliban leader said the journalists had just identified his troops’ positions so as to transmit them to NATO forces. “We cannot accept that our men are in prison and that western journalists speak freely. Their fate will be decided later,” Mullah Dadullah said in the message.


Italian reporter and two Afghan guides have been captured by Taliban

6.03.2007

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his two Afghan guides, who went missing two days ago in southern Afghanistan and are believed to have been captured by the Taliban.

"We point out with firmness to the Taliban chiefs that kidnapping journalists is contrary to all humanitarians laws," the press freedom organisation said. "Daniele Mastrogiacomo is not a spy but a journalist, one who was doing his job as a reporter. We formally appeal for his release."

The Italian daily La Repubblica announced today that it had received no word for the past 48 hours from Mastrogiacomo, a staff reporter who is reporting in Afghanistan and who was in the southern Kandahar region. The Italian foreign ministry confirmed that it has set up crisis unit to handle the case.

A few hours earlier, the Taliban announced that they had captured a British journalist and two Afghans, Sayed Agha and Ajmal, in the southern province of Helmand. A Taliban chief told Agence France-Presse they were spies. The captive journalist could in fact be Mastrogiacomo, especially as a reporter told Reporters Without Borders that a Taliban spokesman had told him the journalist was called "Doniele."

Mastrogiacomo is an experienced foreign correspondent who has covered wars in Somalia, Iraq and Lebanon. He is an adviser for the Italian journalists union. He was investigating in southern Afghanistan where NATO forces have just launched a major offensive against the Taliban.

Several journalists, including an Al-Jazeera crew and two Pakistani reporters, have been detained by the Taliban in recent weeks but in all cases they were quickly released safe and sound. On the other hand, freelance photographer Gabriele Torsello was held near Kandahar for 23 days in October 2006 by criminal groups, while the Taliban called for his release.(JPEG)




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