CPJ renews call for release of Afghan journalist Ajmal Naskhbandi

New York, March 22, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists remains concerned about kidnapped Afghan freelance journalist Ajmal Naskhbandi, who was acting as La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s translator when they were abducted by the Taliban on March 5.

The two men and their driver Sayed Agha—who was beheaded while the group was held—were seized by Taliban fighters in Helmand province. Mastrogiacomo was released two days ago by Taliban kidnappers.

Western media reported that Mastrogiacomo was released by Taliban kidnappers in Afghanistan in exchange for the release of five Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government.

“We renew our call to those still holding Ajmal Naskhbandi to release him,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “And while we are relieved that our colleague Daniele Mastrogiacomo has been released, we are deeply concerned by reports that a journalist was ransomed for five Taliban prisoners. Such an action has serious implications for the safety of journalists working in Afghanistan.”

According to the independent Pajhwok Afghan News agency, Ajmal is still being held by the Taliban, although some members of the group told Afghan journalists in Helmand that he was released at the same time as Mastrogiacomo.

In Kabul, Pajhwok Chief Editor Farida Nekzad told CPJ, “Ajmal is still with the Taliban, but there is a dialogue going. Let us see what will happen. Ajmal’s father and brother are very worried about him and have asked anyone who can to help get him freed.”