In Afghanistan, journalist pleads for Italian authorities to meet his kidnappers’ demands

New York, March 15, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the immediate release of abducted La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, as his recorded appeals to authorities to meet the kidnappers’ demands were released today.

The Pajhwok Afghan News agency in Kabul, the country’s largest independent wire service, received an audio tape of Mastrogiacomo saying he would be killed in two days.

Pajhwok reported that Mastrogiacomo pleaded in English, “Please do something as they have only two days.” The agency identified Taliban leader Mulla Dadullah who said the group has set a two-day deadline to start negotiations with the Italian government. Click here for Pajhwok’s report of the recording.

At the same time, Italian aid group Emergency received a video that showed Mastrogiacomo asking, “…the Italian government and Mr. President Romano Prodi . . . to do everything in their power, to act with all their means in order to obtain our freedom as soon as possible.” La Repubblica translated Mastrogiacomo’s full statement in English; Google Video’s copy of the statement is here.

Mastrogiacomo, a journalist with 27 years of experience, was on assignment for the La Repubblica, when he and two Afghan colleagues were seized in the southern province of Helmand amidst the heaviest round of fighting between U.S., NATO, and Taliban forces since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. Mastrogiacomo last contacted his editors on March 4.

“We are relieved to learn that Daniele Mastrogiacomo is alive. We now call on his abductors to respect the role of journalists in Afghanistan’s conflict and to release him unconditionally and safely,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “No purpose will be served by abusing journalists or taking their lives.”

Since Mastrogiacomo’s abduction, the Taliban have offered different versions of his captivity and prospects for his release. They have said they are investigating whether the reporter was a spy, an accusation categorically denied by his colleagues; they have called for the withdrawal of Italian troops operating with NATO forces in the country; and they offered to exchange Mastrogiacomo for two Taliban leaders being held by Afghan authorities.

Speaking to Italian lawmakers today, Premier Romano Prodi said, “All efforts are now focused on Daniele Mastrogiacomo and I can assure you that we will spare no effort” for his release.