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Taliban threatens to kill Afghan freelance journalist

Sordid reality show: This video frame of an interview broadcast and released by SkyTG24 on Thursday, March 29, 2007 shows a man identified as Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah speaking from an undisclosed location. Superimposed text in Italian reads 'The British, the Italians or the Americans cannot penetrate Taliban areas with their soldiers. Breaking News(on red ribbon) - Dadullah: Mastrogiacomo was not a real journalist.' Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, kidnapped and held by the Taliban for two weeks, was released on March 19 in exchange of five Taliban prisoners freed by the Afghan government under criticism by lawmakers, analysts and international workers. Ajmal Nashqbandi, an Afghan reporter working as a translator and kidnapped with Mastrogiacomo, is still held by the Taliban. Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy of SkyTG24

Afghan interpreter and freelance journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi kidnapped by the Taliban a month ago has appealed to President Hamid Karzai to release three junior Taliban members to secure his freedom, Reuters has reported.

Naqshbandi made the appeal to Karzai 10 days after an Italian journalist who was captured with him was freed following the release of five senior members of the Taliban.

“You have forgotten the Afghan journalist,” Naqshbandi said in his appeal, which he made by telephone late on Friday to a Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yusufzai. “You are worried only for the foreigners, and you are not worried for Afghans.”

Naqshbandi has been held for almost a month since he was captured in Helmand Province, in southwestern Afghanistan, with Daniel Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for La Repubblica, and their driver, Sayed Agha. Agha was beheaded. Mastrogiacomo was released 10 days ago after the Afghanistan government released the five senior members of the Taliban. He is back in Italy.

Naqshbandi told Yusufzai that a Taliban military chief, Mullah Dadullah, said he would be released if Afghanistan freed three junior Taliban members. When Yusufzai asked what would happen to him if the three were not released, the telephone was taken by a man who said that he was a Taliban commander and that no decision had been made. The Taliban and foreign governments now warn that the risk of foreign journalists and aid workers from being kidnapped has increased because of the Italian government’s actions, the Reuters report said.

Ghulam Haidar, 65-year old father of Ajmal, wipes his eyes as he speaks to the Associated Press at his residence in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 23, 2007. Fear and anger are rippling through Kabul's Western community following the release of Taliban prisoners for the Italian journalist, with aid workers, diplomats and journalists saying the deal raises their value to potential kidnappers. Afghans are dismayed that their government has done nothing to free the translator after paying such a high price to free a foreigner. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

According to an interview broadcast on Italian television on Thursday, Dadullah threatened to kill Naqshbandi unless the Kabul government freed some Taliban prisoners. Dadullah said President Karzai must negotiate with the Taliban for the release of interpreter Naqshbandi, just as the Italian government had negotiated the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, whom Ajmal worked for.

“We ask the Karzai government to release two of our prisoners,” Dadullah reportedly said in the interview with Sky Italia, which was broadcast in his native tongue with Italian subtitles. “The Kabul government has got no option, it must negotiate with us for Ajmal. If this doesn’t happen ... then we will kill him.”

Dadullah taunted Karzai, saying he was a puppet in the hands of Western governments and should show he had the same concern for the fate of Ajmal as the Italian government had shown for Mastrogiacomo.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed alarm at Dadullah’s threat. “We deplore the threat to kill Ajmal Naqshbandi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on all parties involved to respect the neutral role of journalists in covering conflict, and do everything in their power to ensure the safe release of our colleague.”

Afghan journalists are protesting the Afghan government’s inaction in the case. Local media groups on Tuesday last installed a tent in front of the National Assembly building in Kabul to pressure members of Parliament to act to secure Ajmal’s safe release.

Members of the US Citizens for Peace and Justice at a demonstration organised by Italian aid group Emergency pressing for the release of two Afghans, Ajmal Nashqbandi and Rahmatullah Hanefi, in Rome, Saturday, March 31, 2007. Naqshbandi is an Afghan reporter who worked as an interpreter for Italian journalist Danile Mastrogiacomo and was kidnapped with him by the Taliban in early March. Rahmatullah Hanefi works for Emergency in Afghanistan and is believed to be held by Afghan authorities since the Italian journalist's release. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

Joshua Gross, press officer for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, DC, told CPJ that the Afghan government was working through “numerous channels” to secure his release. “We have gotten a lot of faxes and emails about him, and are well aware of the public support for him,” said Gross.

The aid group which helped secure the release of Mastrogiacomo has criticised the Italian government for doing nothing for Naqshbandi. Rahmatullah Hanefi, who operates the Afghan hospitals set up by Italian charity Emergency, was arrested after negotiating the release of Mastrogiacomo. It has not been made clear why Hanefi was arrested.

Gino Strada, the head of Emergency, said the Italian government had a duty to pressure Kabul to release Hanefi after the charity had negotiated on its behalf with the Taliban. “We find it indecent and shameful that they haven’t had the courage to officially ask the Afghan government, in writing, to free Hanefi,” Strada told a news conference in Milan.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema denied the accusation he had done nothing to help Hanefi. “Even if we’re talking about an Afghan and not an Italian citizen, the government had taken several steps to ask (Kabul) for explanations,” he said. “We’re still waiting for a reply.”

A giant photograph of Rahmatullah Hanefi hangs next to the stage during a demonstration organised by Italian aid group Emergency pressing for the release of two Afghans, Ajmal Naqshbandi and Hanefi, in downtown Rome, March 31, 2007. Naqshbandi is an Afghan reporter who worked as an interpreter for Italian journalist Danile Mastrogiacomo and was kidnapped with him by the Taliban in early March. (AP/Pier Paolo Cito)

The exchange of Taliban prisoners for the Italian reporter has been criticised by the US and British governments and some journalist groups have expressed concerns it will make reporters in war zones more of a kidnap target.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi rounded on Italy’s centre left government over the affair. He told supporters at a rally on Friday: “It’s open season on westerners if with every kidnap some terrorists get released.”

Meanwhile, some 20,000 Italians demonstrated in Rome on Saturday last for the release of Naqshbandi and Hanefi. Protesters urged the Italian government to push more strongly for the their release.

“Rahmatullah has done nothing wrong,” Emergency founder Strada told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) before the rally. ”He has done what Emergency has requested him to do, which was again requested to Emergency by the Italian government. And what he has done is basically to contact the Taliban and pass them a message for us for the liberation of these hostages.”

Date posted: April 2, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 660