New York, October 4, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly alarmed by the Taliban's announcement today that British journalist Yvonne Ridley will face trial for entering Afghanistan without authorization.
"She will be tried because she broke the laws of our land and entered the country without permission," Mullah Abdur Rahman Zahid, the Taliban's deputy foreign minister, told the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). The AIP is a Pakistan-based news agency with close links to the Taliban.
He went on to remark that officials must "determine if she is really a journalist or [if] she had some other intentions," an obvious reference to Taliban accusations that Ridley may be a spy.
Zahid's statement follows ominous remarks made by the Taliban's information minister, Qudratullah Jamal, in an October 3 interview with the Reuters news agency, that Ridley "must have had ill intentions" in coming to Afghanistan. "America and Britain talk of having their special forces in Afghanistan. She could be one of those special forces," Jamal said.
On September 28, Taliban soldiers arrested Ridley, a reporter for London's Sunday Express newspaper, along with two male guides, in a village near the eastern city of Jalalabad. Ridley reportedly was disguised underneath an all-encompassing burqa gown and was not carrying a passport or other travel documents.
On October 2, British high commissioner to Pakistan Hilary Nicholas Synnott met with the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, to push for Ridley's release. British officials have also provided the Taliban with documents establishing Ridley's credentials as a journalist. Nevertheless, Taliban officials in Kabul seem determined to investigate and try Ridley.
"The Taliban are effectively holding Yvonne Ridley hostage as Afghanistan prepares for a possible American attack," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "The Taliban have ample evidence of Ridley's journalistic credentials, and she has apologized for entering the country improperly. We call for her immediate and unconditional release."
Ridley, 41, is a veteran journalist who has reported from Cyprus, Syria, and Northern Ireland for various British publications, including The Sunday Times, The Observer, and The Independent. According to the Sunday Express, Ridley had failed several times to secure a visa to Afghanistan because the Taliban are currently barring entry to foreign correspondents.
Taliban officials have said that Ridley has been detained in a residential compound in Jalalabad and is being well treated, but British officials have not had direct contact with her. Little is known about the condition of the guides, who were identified as Afghans in some news reports.
Under the laws of the Taliban regime, espionage is punishable by death.