Afghanistan: As deadline looms, CPJ urges kidnappers to free journalist

New York, October 20, 2006—Ahead of the deadline set by the kidnappers of an Italian photographer in Afghanistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists appeals for his immediate safe release.

Freelancer Gabriele Torsello was seized by five gunmen October 12. At first, the kidnappers set a deadline of Sunday night for their demands to be met. That has now changed to midnight Monday, according to the independent news agency, Pajhwok Afghan News.

His kidnappers originally claimed to be members of the Taliban, but senior Taliban leaders have denied involvement. In a later phone call to Pajhwok in Kabul, the kidnappers said, “they were just Muslims fighting foreign occupation” in Afghanistan, Pajhwok reported.

Initially, the kidnappers demanded the return of an Afghan Muslim who converted to Christianity and who is now living in Italy. Torsello is a convert to Islam. The demand changed to include the withdrawal of Italian troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Italian officials in Rome and Kabul say they are in communication with the group, but have made very few statements about the situation.

“No purpose will be served by continuing to hold Gabriele Torsello or causing him harm,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Gabriele’s work reflects his deep social concern and represents the best traditions of journalism.”

Torsello was abducted while traveling between Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan. His captors have been negotiating his release through the Italian medical aid program Emergency working in Helmand’s capital Lashkar Gah, where he had photographed the group’s activities.

“Gabriel Torsello’s abduction is an indication of how much the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated,” Simon added. “Many journalists in Afghanistan, both foreign and Afghan, have told CPJ that they feel increasingly in danger from all sides to the conflict.”