French journalists Hervé Ghesquière, left, and Stéphane Taponier, held captive in Afghanistan. (AFP)
Taponier, left, and Ghesquière. (AFP)

In Afghanistan, concern about journalists held by Taliban

New York, April 14, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the new demands made by a Taliban group that is holding captive two French television journalists, Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, translator Mohammed Reza, and the group’s driver. They were taken in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, in December.

Speaking alternately in English and French, the two French reporters appeared on a videotape appealing for their release. “This message is the last message for the French government and TV France 3. After three months of being held prisoner, the Taliban want absolutely that their demands be accepted by French officials,” Ghesquière said. The approximately three-minute video of the two French reporters started appearing on Islamist Web sites on Monday. An earlier video had been released in February.

“We call on the captors to release these journalists, their translator, and driver. It is a violation of human dignity to offer to trade lives,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Hostage situations are fraught with danger, and we urge all sides to proceed with caution.” 

In the new videotape, Ghesquière said that “the French president, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, must understand that we are now in danger of death. I repeat, the French president must negotiate very quickly, otherwise we will be executed soon.” He said: “Also, they absolutely want this interview to be broadcast on the French TV. If not, we will be executed soon,” Ghesquière said. He said the captors would also kill Reza and the group’s driver, whose identity has not been fully established.

In a statement on one of their Web sites, the Taliban said they sent the Afghan government a list of detainees whose release they demanded in exchange for the French prisoners. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan submitted a list of very ordinary prisoners to the French government for release in exchange for the two French citizens and their Afghan colleagues. But the French government showed no interest, consideration or compassion for the release of its citizens. There is no other option.

“If those involved in this issue do not show swiftness and urgency, then the life of the French will face danger,” said the Pashto-language statement, which was widely translated by Afghan and Pakistani news outlets.

France Television, which owns France 3, had been withholding the identities of Ghesquière, 47, and Taponier, 46, explaining that it was doing so to protect their safety. After the release of the video, the France 3 Web site said, the families of the hostages gave permission for the release of names and photographs of the two French journalists.

In earlier reporting on Afghanistan, CPJ noted that abductions of journalists were accelerating in Afghanistan, and that foreign journalists and their local assistants have been hard hit. On April 2, a Japanese official said freelance Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka had apparently been kidnapped in northern Afghanistan. His fate remains unknown.