New York, June 29, 2011--Eighteen months after their abduction in Afghanistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of France 3 television crew members Hervé Ghesquière, Stéphane Taponier, and Reza Din.
"We join with our French and Afghan colleagues in celebrating the release of Hervé Ghesquière, Stéphane Taponier, and Reza Din," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Their ordeal is a harsh reminder that reporting in Afghanistan continues to pose a challenge to journalists working there."
The French government denied that it had paid a ransom for the reporters, according to the U.K. Guardian. Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the three appeared to be in good health and would be home within "a few hours."
Despite apparent initial resistance from the government, French journalists and media support organizations kept the group in the public eye with support rallies and demonstrations. France 3 as well as all the other channels of the public television corporation France Télévisions had closed their newscasts with pictures of Ghesquière and Taponier, as well as the number of days they had been held.
They were reported kidnapped on December 30, 2009, with their Afghan fixer, Ghulam, and their driver, Sattar. CPJ has confirmed that Ghulam and Sattar were quietly released a few weeks ago. The crew had been working on a story about reconstruction on a road east of Kabul when they were grabbed. Eventually, a Taliban group said they were holding them. The captors' demands for the men's release were never made public by the French government during negotiations.
The Taliban group holding the men released a few videotapes of them. In April 2010, speaking in English and French, the two French reporters appeared on a videotape appealing for their own release: "This message is the last message for the French government and my TV station, France 3. After three months to be 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 also appeared on several Islamist Web sites. An earlier video was released in February 2010.
In an April 2010 statement on one of their websites, 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."
Today in Paris, most reactions--from the government but also from opposition leaders like Martine Aubry, the leading contender for the 2012 presidential elections for the Socialist Party--commended the mobilization of French officials, journalists, and press freedom groups, together with Afghan and international actors, toward the liberation of the hostages.