CPJ expresses alarm as Italian reporter goes missing in Afghanistan

New York, March 6, 2007
—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a veteran reporter for the daily La Repubblica based in Afghanistan, has been out of contact with his newspaper since Sunday. The Taliban today said it had seized a man it alleged was a spy posing as a journalist, along with the man’s two Afghan assistants.

La Repubblica Director Ezio Mauro said today that Mastrogiacomo was in Kandahar province on an “important reporting mission” when he last contacted editors two days ago. Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Franco Danieli, told the Senate in Rome today that a statement attributed to the Taliban and released in Kabul claimed the group had captured a journalist from La Repubblica and accused him of being a spy. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema later told the Italian broadcaster Tg1 that officials believe Mastrogiacomo “was effectively captured by the Taliban’s military structure,” The Associated Press reported.

“We are greatly concerned about the welfare of our colleague Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was doing his job documenting the news,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on those holding any members of the press to release them unharmed immediately.”

Initial reports of a journalist’s abduction included conflicting information. In Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesman told AP that the group had detained an unnamed Briton and two Afghan assistants in Helmand province. The spokesman said the Briton claimed to work for La Repubblica, but the paper told CPJ that only Mastrogiacomo was missing.

La Repubblica described the 52-year-old Mastrogiacomo as a veteran journalist. He was born in Pakistan, where his father was an engineer for an Italian company. He has dual Italian-Swiss citizenship, but was traveling with his Italian passport, the paper said. The paper said Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for 27 years, has worked since 2002 as a staff correspondent in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, and Iraq. |

Both Kandahar and Helmand provinces are strongholds of the Taliban, drug traffickers and criminal groups. NATO and Afghan forces today launched what they described as their biggest offensive yet against the Taliban and drug lords in Helmand.|

On November 3, Gabriele Torsello, an Italian freelance photographer who had been held for ransom for more than three weeks by a criminal group in Kandahar, was released unharmed.