CPJ alarmed by Taliban threat to kill Afghan journalist Ajmal Nakshbandi

New York, March 30, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah has threatened to kill kidnapped Afghan journalist and translator Ajmal Nakshbandi unless President Hamid Karzai negotiates his release.

Ajmal remains in Taliban custody nearly four weeks after he was abducted in Helmand province on March 4, along with Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was later released, and their Afghan driver Sayed Agha who was killed.

In a video message broadcast on local television Thursday, Dadullah demanded the release of two Taliban prisoners in exchange for Ajmal, according to international news reports. According to Agence France-Presse, the Taliban leader said, “If Karzai is really the president of Afghanistan …he should talk to us for Ajmal…If this doesn’t happen we will kill him.”

The Italian government has come under criticism for negotiating the freedom of La Repubblica journalist Mastrogiacomo in exchange for the release of five Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government.

“We deplore the threat to kill Ajmal Nakshbandi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on all parties involved to respect the neutral role of journalists in covering conflict, and do everything in their power to ensure the safe release of our colleague.”

Afghan journalists are protesting the Afghan government’s inaction in the case. Local media groups on Tuesday installed a tent in front of the National Assembly building in Kabul to pressure members of Parliament to act to secure Ajmal’s safe release.

Joshua Gross, press officer for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C., told CPJ today that the Afghan government was working through “numerous channels” to secure his release. “We have gotten a lot of faxes and emails about him, and are well aware of the public support for him,” said Gross.