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Afghanistan 4 April 2007

Joint appeal to Afghan government by Reporters Without Borders and La Repubblica one month after interpreter’s abduction

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders and the Italian daily La Repubblica today issued a joint appeal to the Afghan government to do everything possible to obtain the release of La Repubblica correspondent Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan interpreter, Adjmal Nasqhbandi, who will begin his second month in captivity tomorrow.

Nasqhbandi and Mastrogiacomo were kidnapped together on 5 March but, unlike the Italian reporter, who was released on 19 March, Nasqhbandi is still being held by Taliban under the command of Mullah Dadullah.

Reporters Without Borders and La Repubblica also urged the Afghan authorities to immediately release Rahmatullah Hanefi, the personnel chief of a hospital run by the Italian NGO Emergency in the southern town of Lashkar Gah, who has reportedly been held without charge in an Afghan prison since 20 March.

“Mullah Dadullah’s death threats against Nasqhbandi are extremely reprehensible,” the press freedom organisation and the newspaper said. “It is clear the Taliban have already obtained a great deal by means of this deplorable blackmail for which there is no justification. We call on the Afghan government and all those with any influence to do everything they can to get Nasqhbandi freed. We also call for Hanefi’s immediate release. His arrest without charge and without any reason being given is unacceptable.”

Dadullah addressed President Hamid Karzai in a video broadcast by the TV channel Sky TG24 on 29 March, threatening to kill Nasqhbandi if Karzai did not release two of Dadullah’s men in return. “If Karzai really is Afghanistan’s president, he must negotiate Adjmal’s release” he said. “Karzai has so far negotiated the release of foreigners but never the release of an Afghan citizen. If there is no negotiation, we will kill him.”

The Taliban originally promised to release Nasqhbandi at the same time as Mastrogiacomo. Their Afghan driver, Sayed Agha, who was kidnapped with them, was beheaded on 16 March, three days before Mastrogiacomo was freed.

Hanefi was reportedly arrested one day after Mastrogiacomo’s release, in which he played a key role. An Italian foreign ministry spokesman announced on 2 April that a Red Cross delegation had been able to visit Hanefi in an undisclosed location.

During a demonstration by some 400 people on Navone Square in Rome on 1 April to demand the release of both Nasqhbandi and Hanefi, Mastrogiacomo’s sister read out a message from her brother to the Afghan and Italian governments, to the UN, to NGOs working in Afghanistan and to foreign embassies in Kabul. “Do your utmost to get my friends freed,” he said, adding: “My heart and my thoughts are with them.”

Il Manifesto reporter Giulana Sgrena, a former hostage in Iraq, also spoke at the demonstration, saying there should be no difference in the treatment of Italian hostages and those of other nationalities. On other side of the podium from which she spokes, large photos of Nasqhbandi and Hanefi were displayed. Parliamentarians Giovanni Russo Spena and Furio Colombo, and another former hostage in Iraq, Simona Torretta, also paid tribute to the two captives.

Ten Afghan and Italian journalists, including the president of the National Union of Afghan Journalists, Fazel Sancharaki, gave a news conference yesterday in Kabul in which they also appealed to the Taliban to free their fellow journalist, Nasqhbandi.Corriere della Sera reporter Lorenzo Cremonesi said: “We, Afghan and Italian journalists and media assistants, would like to appeal directly to the Taliban and in particular to Commander Mullah Dadullah, who is holding our colleague Adjmal Nasqhbandi hostage, to release him immediately.”

Duilio Giammaria of the Italian TV network Rai called on the Afghan authorities to give the so far unknown reasons why Hanefi is being held.

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