New York, November 28, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is extremely concerned about the safety of Ken Hechtman, a Canadian free-lance journalist who is believed to be held captive in the border town of Spin Boldak.
Hechtman, 33, was writing for the weekly Montreal Mirror.
On November 27, a man who identified himself as Mohammedzai approached two Western journalists in the Pakistani border town of Chaman and told them of Hechtman’s abduction.
Mohammedzai claimed that Hechtman was being held in a windowless room in Spin Boldak, chained hand and foot and guarded by some 11 armed Taliban members.
He told the journalists that the Taliban had threatened to kill the reporter if they did not receive a ransom.
These claims could not be immediately verified. The Taliban commander in Spin Boldak, which remains under Taliban control despite reports of increasing disorder, denied that his soldiers were holding Hechtman.
Mohammedzai did give the journalists a business card with “Ken Hechtman, Montreal Mirror” handwritten on the back along with two phone numbers, one of which was the number of a friend of Hechtman’s in Canada.
The editor of the Montreal Mirror confirmed that the paper had lost touch with Hechtman, who had been filing reports for the paper from the region for the last several weeks. Hechtman apparently left Chaman for Afghanistan during the weekend. He reportedly told the owner of a local hotel that he was headed for Kandahar, the Taliban’s last remaining stronghold.
“CPJ calls on the Canadian government to do everything in its power to guarantee the safe return of Ken Hechtman,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Journalists are increasingly at risk in Afghanistan now that much of the country is literally ungoverned. Because foreign correspondents are known to carry large amounts of cash as well as expensive equipment, they are particularly vulnerable to attack by criminals. In the last month alone, eight journalists have been killed in Afghanistan—more than any other country in the world this year.