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Three hundred days on, French journalists still in captivity

Monday marks 300 days of captivity in Afghanistan for two French journalists from France Televisions. A solidarity concert will be held in Paris on Monday night.


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For 300 days now, two French journalists from France Televisions have been held in captivity in Afghanistan, the longest period of detention of a French journalist in the field since the Lebanese Civil War. A free concert will held on Monday night in Paris to commemorate this grim milestone.

On Dec. 29, 2009, French journalists Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, along with three Afghan colleagues - Mohammed Reza, Ghulam and Satar - were captured while they were travelling in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, north-east of Kabul.

“We understand that there have been contacts between the kidnappers and French military officials,” said Kabul-based GRN correspondent for FRANCE 24, Jerome Starkey. “They are said to be in as good a condition as possible.”

Going public or staying silent?

Staff journalists for the French public TV station France 3, Ghesquiere 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 the capture of Ghesquiere and Taponier, France 3 officials asked 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.

In Rohde’s case, his employers maintain that going public would only have increased the dangers to their reporter.

Afghanistan not the same as Iraq

Speaking to FRANCE 24 back in August, 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.

Ghesquiere 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 centres.


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