New York, October 9, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the release of British journalist Yvonne Ridley, a reporter for London’s Sunday Express who was imprisoned by Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia for 10 days after entering the country without a visa.
Late yesterday evening, October 8, Taliban escorts drove Ridley to the Pakistani border crossing at Torkham, near Peshawar, and handed her over to Pakistani officials. In an account of her ordeal published today in the daily Express, Ridley reported that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, signed her release order under pressure from the Pakistani government.
“We are extremely pleased that our colleague Yvonne Ridley has been freed,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ calls on the Taliban to allow foreign journalists access to Afghanistan so that they can cover events in the country.”
Taliban soldiers arrested Ridley, along with two Afghan guides, on September 28 in the village of Dour Baba, just 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the Pakistani border. The fate of the guides remains unknown.
Senior Taliban officials had told reporters that Ridley was under investigation for spying and would have to stand trial for entering the country illegally. At the time of her arrest, Ridley was disguised underneath an all-encompassing burqa gown and was not carrying a passport or other travel documents.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, the Taliban have banned foreign journalists from entering Afghanistan and stopped granting visas to foreigners.
Authorities initially detained Ridley in Jalalabad and then moved her to a prison in Kabul, where she was jailed along with six of eight foreign aid workers who are currently on trial for preaching Christianity, a violation of Taliban law.
In her Express article, Ridley wrote that she began a hunger strike the day of her arrest, when she was denied access to a telephone.
Ridley reported that from her prison cell in Kabul, she could clearly see bombs dropping on the evening of October 7, the first night of U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan.
Commenting on her decision to go to Afghanistan, Ridley wrote, “It was not a silly stunt, I was trying to find out what Afghans thought about the situation.”
After her release, Ridley was taken first to Peshawar and then to Islamabad, where she was in the care of the British High Commission. She was due to leave Islamabad Tuesday night local time for London, according to Martin Townsend, editor of the Sunday Express.