Afghanistan - Calls for release of Afghan journalist and fixer Adjmal Nasqhbandi, now entering fourth week in captivity, while homage paid to slain colleague Sayed Agha

    MONTREAL, March 26 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders reiterated
its call for the release of La Repubblica correspondent Daniele
Mastrogiacomo's Afghan fixer, Adjmal Nasqhbandi, who today begins his fourth
week in captivity in southern Afghanistan. Many appeals for his release have
been issued in Afghanistan and Italy in the past few days.
    The press freedom organisation said it also paid homage to
Mastrogiacomo's driver, Sayed Agha, whose body has still not been returned to
his family.
    "There is no justification for continuing to hold Nasqhbandi or for
refusing to return Agha's body," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is clear
the Taliban have already obtained a great deal in this tragic affaire. Mullah
Dadullah's attitude and his threat to kidnap other journalists run counter to
the undertakings given by other Taliban leaders towards the press. We condemn
Dadullah's behaviour and statements, which pose a serious threat to Afghan and
foreign journalists working in the south of the country."
    A journalist aged 25, Nasqhbandi has reportedly been held by Dadullah's
men ever since Mastrogiacomo, Agha and he were taken prisoner in Helmand
province on 5 March. Dadullah himself told Pakistani journalist Rahimullah
Yousafzai that Nasqhbandi was still being held, adding that "the Karzai
government was only interested in the Italian." Taliban spokesmen have
demanded the release of more Taliban prisoners in exchange for Nasqhbandi.
    According to some accounts, however, the Afghan security forces could now
be holding Nasqhbandi and Rahmatullah Hanefi, manager of "Emergency" hospital.
Mastrogiacomo said he thought Nasqhbandi was released at the same time as he
was, but was placed in a different vehicle. A Taliban chief also told an
Afghan journalist that, if he wanted news of Nasqhbandi, he should ask the
government in Kabul. Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to
respond to these allegations.
    On 23 March, Mastrogiacomo and the editor of La Repubblica appealed for
the release of Nasqhbandi, whose photo is to be displayed outside the Rome
city hall. The Italian journalists' organisation "Fourth Power"
( also issued a call for his release yesterday. In Kabul,
one of his brothers appealed for his release, saying the only news he had
received of him was a video message dated 12 March in which he said he was
well and had been arrested for "entering a Taliban region without permission."
    Mullah Dadullah's men have meanwhile demanded the release of a Taliban
chief, Mulluh Janaan, in exchange for the body of Agha, Mastrogiacomo's
driver. Members of Agha's family went to Garmseer, a village in Helmand
province, to recover his body, and were stopped and turned back by Taliban.
Aged 25, Agha often worked as a driver and fixer for foreign journalists in
Helmand province, including Tom Coghlan of the London-based Daily Telegraph
    Coghlan paid the following tribute to Agha: "Sayed Agha was a gentle,
witty and deeply likeable young man. It was access quite impossible to achieve
without the tribal connections and guarantees that a local man like Sayed was
able to provide. But with his work came a great level of risk. His willingness
to take such risks is something that was hard to understand. I can only assume
he found what he did exciting, and unlike many people in the south of
Afghanistan he seemed to have a genuine liking for, and interest in, foreign
"infidels". But while the journalist coming in accepts a level of danger, we
can leave again for the safety of the capital Kabul. For men like Sayed,
becoming known as someone who works with foreigners is a permanent threat to
their lives. Sayed was not ignorant of this, but nor did he ever attempt to
limit what the reporters he worked with asked of him. When for instance we
spent a day together following a poppy eradication team, it was only
afterwards that he told me that he believed that his car would now be unusable
in that district because it would be suspected of government connections. In
rural Helmand few unfamiliar faces escape notice for long. His powerful tribal
connections and personal friendships with people within local Taliban groups
offered a level of protection. But as he admitted himself, if the wrong people
got hold of us, there would be nothing he could do. Sadly it was the wrong
people who took him, Daniele Mastrogiacomo and their translator two weeks ago.
Mullah Dadullah Akhund is the best known and most feared Taliban commander
operating in the south. He has been compared to the Iraqi insurgent leader Abu
Musab Al-Zarqawi for his extremist beliefs, psychopathic savagery and love of
self-promotion. It is a measure of Dadullah's character that Mullah Omar, the
spiritual leader of the Taliban, sacked him as commander of Taliban forces in
Bamiyan in 1998 because his behaviour towards the Shia Muslim Hazara people of
the region, whom Dadullah considered heretics, was too brutal even for Omar's
tastes. Dadullah and his cohorts chose to release Mastrogiacomo, which was
very welcome news. But despite the efforts of Sayed's Afghan friends and
family to intercede with Dadullah on his behalf, the Taliban announced last
Friday that Sayed Agha had been beheaded."
    Mastrogiacomo was released on 19 March in exchange for five Taliban,
including a brother to Mullah Dadullah.

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Canadian office representative,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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