Taliban fighters are seen in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 6, 2022. The Taliban recently arrested Andrew North and another journalist on assignment with the United Nations. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Taliban arrests 2 journalists on assignment with United Nations

New York, February 11, 2022 — The Taliban must immediately release Andrew North and all other journalists held for their work, and cease harassing and detaining members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

Taliban forces in Kabul arrested North, a former BBC journalist on assignment for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and another journalist whose name was not released, and transferred them to an undisclosed location, according to a statement on Twitter by the UNHCR; Twitter posts by former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and BBC Executive Editor for World News Content Paul Danahar; and the Afghanistan International TV Station, an independent London-based outlet.

A UN official in Kabul, who communicated with CPJ on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the issue, said that North was detained on Tuesday, February 8. None of those statements or reports identify the second journalist, or the exact circumstances of their detention.

According to the UNHCR’s statement, “two journalists on assignment with UNHCR and Afghan nationals working with them” were detained. The UNHCR also said, “We are doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others,” adding that it would make no further comment.

“The Taliban’s detention of two journalists on assignment with the UN refugee agency is a sad reflection of the overall decline of press freedom and increasing attacks on journalists under Taliban rule,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Andrew North and the other, unidentified journalist should be freed immediately and allowed to continue their work, and the Taliban must halt its repeated attacks on and harassment of journalists.”

The Washington Post quoted an unnamed Taliban official as saying that several foreigners were arrested in Kabul on charges of working for Western intelligence agencies.

North is a former BBC reporter who now independently reports on Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Asia, according to his personal website. His Twitter account shows posts from the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces in late January; he last tweeted on February 3.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, a Taliban deputy spokesperson in Afghanistan, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.