Show caption Andrew North is a former BBC journalist. Photograph: Twitter Afghanistan Taliban release British journalist Andrew North from detention in Kabul Journalist and several other reporters freed after being held while on assignment with UNHCR Emma Graham-Harrison Fri 11 Feb 2022 20.56 GMT Share on Facebook
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The Taliban have released a British journalist and several other reporters they had been holding for several days, in an incident that deepened concerns about pressure on media inside Afghanistan.
The group were on assignment for the UN refugee agency reporting on Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
The same evening they were given their freedom, at least one Afghan female activist – from a group detained last month – was also released. The Taliban had come under heavy international pressure over the detentions of both women and journalists.
Another British man, former cameraman Peter Jouvenal, was seized by Taliban authorities in Kabul at the end of last year and remains in custody. His family went public with concerns about his health and safety after more than two months in jail without charges or access to a lawyer.
Though the Taliban have detained and beaten Afghan journalists regularly since sweeping to power in the summer, the arrests this week marked the first time they held foreign reporters for more than a few hours.
One of those detained this week is the former BBC journalist Andrew North, who has long experience working in Afghanistan, including for the website Tortoise. He had recently recorded a From Our Own Correspondent piece for the BBC as a freelancer, and had also recently written for the Guardian.
His wife, Natalia Antelava, had appealed for help to secure his freedom. “Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR trying to help the people of Afghanistan. We are extremely concerned for his safety and call on anyone with influence to help secure his release,” she said.
The other foreigner and the Afghans who had been detained with North had not been named.
Late on Friday the Taliban government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the people detained while working for the UN had originally been seized because “they didn’t possess any ID cards, permits and necessary documents”, but had now been released.
The UN later confirmed the group were free. “We are grateful to all who expressed concern and offered help. We remain committed to the people of Afghanistan,” the refugee agency said in a statement on Twitter.
The detentions represented an escalation of threats against the media, after press freedom and human rights groups had already warned about a climate of “growing harassment”.
Because the two men were working for the UN, the incident also risked jeopardising foreign aid deliveries, vital at a time of widespread hunger. If international organisations fear their staff cannot operate safely, they may have to reduce operations.
“The Taliban’s detention of foreign journalists is the latest in an escalating crackdown on the media in an attempt to control what gets reported and by whom,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Taliban authorities have already clamped down on the Afghan media’s reporting of Taliban repression.”
At least 50 Afghan reporters and other media professionals have been arrested or detained by the Taliban police or intelligence services since last August, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a report this week on the country. Many of them were subjected to violence in custody.
The remaining Briton still held by the Taliban is Jouvenal, who is married to an Afghan citizen and was in Kabul to do business and settle family affairs, a friend said. Other foreigners are believed to have been arrested around the same time, but their names and nationalities are not known.
Jouvenal, who filmed with the BBC’s John Simpson when the Taliban were toppled in 2001, has not worked as a journalist for many years, instead operating businesses including a popular guesthouse in Kabul. He has now spent two months in jail without facing charges, and without the freedom to contact family or lawyers.
“We urgently request that the Afghan authorities release Peter,” said David Loyn, a friend who also worked in Kabul as a journalist. “He suffers from high blood pressure and needs medication. There is a high threat of Covid infection in the Afghan prison system.
“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.”