Kidnapped French journalists held hostage for eight months
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Eight months after French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier were captured in Afghanistan, media outlets and local officials are marking the longest period of captivity of any French journalist since the 1980s.
It’s the longest period of detention of a French journalist in the field since the Lebanese Civil War and finally, eight months after their abduction, the fates of two French journalists captured in Afghanistan were placed in the spotlight Tuesday.
On Dec. 29, 2009, French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, along with three Afghan colleagues - Mohammed Reza, Ghulam and Satar - were captured while they were traveling in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul.
A number of French newspapers ran full-page ads by the Paris-based NGO, Reporters Without Borders, comparing the duration of Ghesquière and Taponier’s captivity with other prominent French journalists captured in the field.
“Florence Aubenas: 157 days,” read the ad, referring to the French journalist who was captured and later released in Iraq. “Philippe Rochot: 105 days,” the ad continued, listing the captivity period of a prominent French reporter kidnapped during the 1980s Lebanese Civil War. The ad ended with the baseline: “For the past six months, Hervé and Stéphane have been hostages in Afghanistan. React!”
Going public or staying silent?
Staff journalists for the French public TV station, France 3, Ghesquière and Taponier were reporting in the mountainous area of Kapisa, a region that has largely fallen under the control of men loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
A dreaded, opportunistic Afghan warlord, Hekmatyar has a dubious history of forming and breaking alliances with other militant leaders over the past three decades.
Shortly after Ghesquière and Taponier’s capture, France 3 officials had requested other news organisations not to release the journalists’ names due to security concerns.
The initial reluctance to divulge details of their abduction, followed by subsequent reports of murky negotiations with an even murkier network of insurgents in the badlands of Afghanistan, have sparked a debate about the need to suppress details of a journalist’s kidnapping for security reasons over the compulsion to launch public awareness campaigns.
The debate comes barely a year after New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped his Taliban abductors after a seven-month period of complete silence by US and international media organisations about his captivity.
The media silence over Rohde’s captivity sparked a controversy about the responsibility to report the news, and raised issues of whether news organisations had granted special privacy privileges to their colleagues.
In Rohde’s case, his employers maintain that going public would only have increased the dangers to their reporter.
Afghanistan is not the same as Iraq
Speaking to FRANCE 24 Tuesday, Jean Francois Juillard, Secretary General for Reporters Without Borders, said there were no rules for what is the best course of action to take in such situations.
“There is no one answer in this kind of situation,” said Juillard. “It depends on the location, on the identity of the kidnappers, on the situation in the country – for instance, the situation in Afghanistan today is not the same as it was a few years ago in Iraq.”
Almost a decade since the launch of the US-led international mission in Afghanistan, the situation in the war-torn country is precarious, with the Taliban controlling large swathes in the southern and south-eastern regions. Many parts of Afghanistan are controlled by warlords who have made some sort of arrangement with senior Taliban leaders.
The nebulous, interconnected nature of the insurgency, which spreads across the Afghan-Pakistan border and includes a number of senior militant figures, has further complicated the business of trying to secure the French journalists’ release.
In an article published Tuesday, the French daily, Liberation, said the two journalists were initially held by Sheikh Shafiq, a local militant in Kapisa linked to Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami group. According to Liberation, the two journalists were then transferred to Maulawi Berial, a commander with links to the Quetta Shura, or council of advisors close to reclusive Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
Ghesquière and Taponier were last publicly seen in a video released on a jihadist site on April 8. The two appeared to be in good health and called for the release of prisoners in Afghan detention centers.