Journalists who have been hostages in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip today described their captivity and called for action on behalf of the 13 journalists still being held by kidnappers in Iraq and Gaza. They spoke at a news conference organised by Reporters Without Borders at the Multimedia Authors Association (SCAM) in Paris to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Florence Aubenas, a Nouvel Observateur reporter who was held hostage in Iraq for five months in 2005, said she was held with three Romanian journalists, including Marie-Jeanne Ion, although she had denied this at the time of her release.
Aubenas and Ion explained that they were forced to conceal the truth in order not to jeopardise the other hostages still being held by the same group. Aubenas said that as many as 13 people were held at the same time as her in a small cellar. Ion voiced concern that “the weapon of hostage-taking is being exported.”
Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a foreign correspondent for the Italian daily La Repubblica, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in March of this year, paid tribute to his two local assistants, who were abducted with him and who were executed by their kidnappers. “We were no different from my fixer,” he said. “I had known him for five years.”
As regards campaigning on behalf of hostages, he said: “While it has no direct influence on the kidnappers, it does put pressure on the authorities and forces them to negotiate and discuss... It is not true that you should be discreet except at certain key moments.”
Steve Centanni, a journalist with the US television network Fox News, who was kidnapped in Gaza City in August 2006, said his thoughts went out to Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who has been a hostage in Gaza since 12 March. Centanni said he believed he was freed thanks to pressure from his government, his network and international organisations.
Reached by telephone, the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent, Simon Wilson, said he had no news about what has happened to Johnston and he called on the Palestinian authorities to protect foreigners and journalists working in the territories.
Mohammed Yahya, an Iraqi fixer for many French news media (including TF1, Le Monde and Europe 1), who was forced to flee Baghdad because of the many threats being made against him, spoke about the difficulties of local journalists working in Iraq.
The former hostages finally appealed for more energetic efforts to obtain the release of the 13 journalists and media workers still being held hostage in Iraq and Gaza.
In its activities marking the 17th World Press Freedom Day today, Reporters Without Borders also unveiled:
The new list of Press Freedom Predators in 2007
The Journalists Memorial in Bayeux, in Normandy (inaugurated on 2 May 2007)
Safety measures for journalists planning to visit war zones
The addition of new languages to the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org), which is now in a total of six languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French and Spanish)
The Reporters Without Borders bureau in Second Life
The new book of photographs - “100 photos of the Cannes Film Festival for press freedom”
The new ad campaign created for Reporters Without Borders by Saatchi & Saatchi (unveiled at 3 May 2007 news conference).