CBC reporter freed in Afghanistan, two held

New York, November 10, 2008–Two days after the release of CBC journalist Mellissa Fung, contradictory details have begun to emerge about her captivity, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. Fung was kidnapped 28 days ago while conducting interviews in a Kabul refugee camp. She was apparently held, chained and blindfolded, in Wardak, the province west of Kabul, according to many media reports.  

The Globe and Mail reported that a Taliban spokesman denied that their group had held her, while other sources told the paper that she had been passed between at least two Taliban groups.

In a news conference in Toronto on Sunday, John Cruickshank, publisher of CBC News, said that Fung’s translator, identified only as Shakoor, and their driver–Shakoor’s brother–were still being held by Afghan authorities. They reportedly suspect the men were involved in the abduction. “We are concerned about him,” Cruickshank said of Shakor, a long-time worker with the CBC office in Kabul. “That’s one of our next tasks.”

One day before Fung’s release, another foreign female journalist–Dutch national Joanie de Rijke–was freed a week after being kidnapped. De Rijke was kidnapped near Kabul, while working on a story about 10 French soldiers apparently killed in a Taliban ambush in August for Belgian magazine P. Both cases were not covered under a near-total news blackout, and it is still not fully clear who the reporters’ abductors were.

“We’re glad that Mellissa Fung and Joanie de Rijke are free. Obviously, this is a complex situation. The more we learn about it the easier it will be for journalists to assess the risks of operating in Afghanistan,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We share with our CBC colleagues their concerns for Shakoor and Fung’s driver and join with CBC in asking for public clarification for any charges pending against them.”

CBC executives said they would make details of Fung’s kidnapping available as the situation became clearer. Cruickshank justified the news blackout to reporters in Toronto on Sunday: “In my view, when we know that public scrutiny can imperil the safety of innocent victims of a crime such as this, our choice is unavoidable,” he said. “We must put the safety of the victim ahead of our instinct for full transparency and disclosure.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this alert has been changed to correct Mellissa Fung’s first name.