Journalist and translator freed in Afghanistan

New York, November 12, 2009—A Norwegian freelance journalist and an Afghan colleague were released Thursday after nearly a week in captivity in eastern Afghanistan, according to international news reports.

Paal Refsdal had called the Norwegian Embassy in Kabul on November 6 to say he and his translator had been abducted, according to international news reports. Refsdal was making a documentary for Norwegian production company Novemberfilm, the reports said. Novemberfilm confirmed Refsdal’s identity after the Norwegian Foreign Ministry announced today that a journalist and translator had been released, according to The Associated Press. The translator was not named in local or international reports about the incident.


“While we are glad this case turned out well, the sheer number of abductions of teams of foreign and Afghan reporters like this is alarming,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. It is a problem that is having an increasing impact on reporting the Afghanistan story.”


Abductions of international reporters in recent years that ended safely include La Repubblica’s Daniele Mastrogiacomo in 2007; the CBC’s Mellissa Fung in 2007; Dutch journalist Joanie de Rijke in 2008; British journalist Sean Langan, and New York Times reporter David Rohde in 2008; and the Times’ Stephen Farrell in 2009. Afghan reporters died in two of these kidnappings: Mastrogiacomo’s fixer, local reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi, and driver, Sayed Agha, were beheaded by their Taliban captors. Farrell’s fellow reporter, Sultan Mohammed Munadi, was killed during the British military rescue under circumstances that were not fully explained.


According the Pakistan-based newspaper The News, Refsdal and his translator’s abduction took place in Kunar province, which lies on the border with Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Both sides of the border are Taliban strongholds. In an article published on Monday, the paper cited a spokesman for the Taliban saying a Norwegian journalist had entered a Taliban-controlled area without permission, and set the return of 12 Taliban prisoners and the withdrawal of Norwegian troops from the region as conditions for his release.


A “crisis response team” was established in Oslo and in Kabul after the Norwegian Embassy in Afghanistan informed the Foreign Ministry of the kidnapping on Friday, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry statement said. The ministry refused to comment on the negotiations which lead to Refsdal and the translator being freed, international news reports said.


The Norwegian media did not report on the abduction for fear of jeopardizing their colleague’s safety, news reports said.