Afghanistan: Two foreign journalists released after detention

Two international journalists released after being detained while on assignment with UNHCR, says UN refugee agency.

Journalists cover a women's protest in support of the Taliban regime in front of the US embassy in Kabul
Afghanistan has long been one of the world's most dangerous countries for the news media [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Two international journalists who were detained while on an assignment for the UN refugee agency in the Afghan capital have been released, the agency has said.

“We are relieved to confirm the release in Kabul of the two journalists on assignment with UNHCR, and the Afghan nationals working with them,” the United Nations refugee agency said in a statement on Friday.

One of the journalists is Andrew North, a British former BBC correspondent who has covered Afghanistan for about 20 years and regularly travelled to the war-ravaged country to report on its deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

Earlier, his wife Natalia Antelava called for his release, and wrote in a tweet: “Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR & trying to help the people of Afghanistan.”

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid earlier said the authorities were looking into the matter.

There was no indication of what prompted the detentions. UN agencies employ journalists to report on their work around the world.

Calls to release former journalist

Separately on Friday, the friends of a British-German former journalist detained in Afghanistan urged the authorities to release him, saying that they think he is being held in error.

Peter Jouvenal was arrested in December while in the country for business and family reasons, his friends said in a statement.

“Peter Jouvenal’s friends are deeply concerned for his safety following his detention by the authorities in Afghanistan in early December,” the statement said. “He is being held without charge, and with no freedom to contact his family or lawyers.”

“Peter’s family and friends believe that he may have been detained in error, as he was in Afghanistan to discuss investments in Afghanistan’s mining industry as well as conducting family business. Before his arrest, he was working openly and had frequent meetings with senior Taliban officials.

“We urgently request that the Afghan authorities release Peter,” the statement said.

Since the Taliban took over the country in August, concerns have grown about a crackdown on dissent. The UN has repeatedly raised alarm about missing women’s rights activists in recent weeks.

Security has vastly improved since the Taliban defeated NATO-backed Afghan forces, but the hardline group has forcefully cracked down on journalists, with local reporters paying the heaviest price.

At least 50 Afghan media workers have been arrested or detained by the police or the Taliban’s intelligence agency, Reporters Without Borders said in a report earlier this month.

The arrests, often accompanied by violence, have lasted from several hours to nearly a week, the Paris-based press freedoms watchdog said.

Afghanistan has long been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the news media.

Several journalists, including women, were killed in a spree of targeted attacks blamed on the Taliban in the build-up to their offensive to take back control.

Foreign nations have refused to recognise the Taliban-led administration, but have ramped up engagement as they try to avert a huge humanitarian crisis stemming from an economy stalled by sanctions and a halt in development funding since the group took over.

A Taliban delegation visited Geneva this week for talks with aid agencies and meetings with Swiss officials. The Swiss foreign ministry said it planned to call on the Taliban to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies