French journalist, Iraqi interpreter freed after five months in captivity

New York, June 13, 2005
—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of a French journalist and her Iraqi interpreter who had been held captive in Iraq for more than five months.

Florence Aubenas, a veteran foreign correspondent for the French daily Liberation, and her Iraqi interpreter Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, were freed on Saturday. Hanoun was reunited with his family in Baghdad shortly after his release, while Aubenas arrived home in France on Sunday.

“We are relieved that our colleagues have regained their freedom following this cruel ordeal,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We are thankful they are unharmed, and apparently in good health. Our best wishes go out to them, their families, and colleagues.”

The circumstances of their release remain unclear, as does the identity of the group that held them for 157 days, beginning on January 5 when both were abducted near Aubenas’ Baghdad hotel. French authorities have not provided details about the release or the kidnappers. They have denied that a ransom was paid despite speculation in the French media.

Following her arrival in Paris, Aubenas spoke briefly with reporters and described the conditions under which she was held as “severe,” saying she was kept bound and blindfolded in a cellar, according to press reports. She said she would offer more details on Tuesday.

In March, the kidnappers released a video of Aubenas, looking pale and tired and stating that she was in bad health. She urged a French lawmaker to help win her release.

Armed groups have kidnapped at least 30 journalists in Iraq since April 2004, when insurgents began targeting foreigners for abduction. Two were killed, Italian Enzo Baldoni and Iraqi Raeda Wazzan; the others have been released.