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Taliban free detained UNHCR staff, 2 foreign journalists

One of the detained foreign journalists was Andrew North, a former BBC journalist who has worked extensively in Afghanistan



Newly recruited Taliban fighters  display their skills during a graduation ceremony at the Abu Dujana National Police Training centre in Kandahar. — AFP
Newly recruited Taliban fighters display their skills during a graduation ceremony at the Abu Dujana National Police Training centre in Kandahar. — AFP

By AP

Published: Sat 12 Feb 2022, 12:47 AM

The Taliban released two foreign journalists working with the UN refugee agency and several of the aid organisation’s Afghan staff on Friday, UNHCR said, hours after news broke about their detentions in the capital, Kabul.

The announcement followed a tweet by the Taliban-appointed deputy minister of culture and communications, Zabihullah Mujahid, who said they were detained because they didn’t have documents that properly identified them as UNHCR. Mujahid said they were freed after their identities were confirmed.

“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 Geneva-based organisation said in a brief two-sentence statement. “We are grateful to all who expressed concern and offered help. We remain committed to the people of Afghanistan.”

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The development in Kabul comes as President Joe Biden signed an executive order that promised $3.5 billion — out of $7 billion of Afghanistan’s assets frozen in the United States — would be given to families of America’s 9/11 victims. The other $3.5 billion would be freed for Afghan aid. The order would allow US financial institutions to facilitate access to the money by humanitarian groups, which would then give it directly to the Afghan people.

One of the detained foreign journalists was Andrew North, a former British Broadcasting Corporation journalist who has worked extensively in Afghanistan. His wife Natalia Antelava had earlier issued a plea on Twitter for his release.

“Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR (at) Refugees trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” Antelava said. “We are extremely concerned for his safety & call on anyone with influence to help secure his release.”

The Committee to Protect Journalist had also condemned the detentions and called for the immediate release of the journalists.

“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 CPJ statement said, noting they were detained on Tuesday.

“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,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, said in Washington.

The international community has been wary of officially recognising Afghanistan’s new rulers, concerned the Taliban would impose the same harsh rule as they did when they were previously in power in the 1990s.

In the wake of the takeover, international funding was suspended and billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s assets abroad, mostly in the US, were frozen and financial aid to the government was largely halted, pushing the Afghan economy further into a tailspin.


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