CPJ calls for release of Afghan translator Ajmal Naskhbandi

New York, March 20, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned about Afghan freelance journalist Ajmal Naskhbandi, who was kidnapped over two weeks ago while acting as La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s translator.

“We call on the Afghan government to do everything in its power to secure the release of our colleague Ajmal Naskhbandi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “All parties involved must ensure Ajmal’s immediate safe return.”

Mastrogiacomo, who was freed yesterday, said Ajmal and their Afghan driver Sayed Agha were held together after Taliban forces abducted them from Helmand province on March 5. While Agha was brutally killed, Mastrogiacomo said he last saw Ajmal, who worked as a reporter mainly for Japanese papers and translated frequently for journalists and aid groups, as the two were unchained in preparation for release.

“The Taliban want to make a separate arrangement with the Afghan government for Ajmal’s release,” Pajhwok Afghjhan News reporter Danish Karokhel told CPJ. “I am worried. The rest of the world is happy, but we cannot forget about Afghan journalists.”

La Repubblica confirmed that Mastrogiacomo had been released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government.