Journalists’ Groups Protest Photog Kidnapping in Afghanistan

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Two journalists’ associations on Wednesday denounced the kidnapping of an Italian freelance photographer in Afghanistan, saying reporters are not “bargaining chips.”

Reporters Without Borders, based in France, and the National Union of Journalists, based in Britain, said in a joint statement that photographer Gabriele Torsello could be killed by those holding him hostage.

Torsello and his Afghan translator were abducted as they were traveling last week from Lashkar Gah to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

“A journalist is neither a spy nor a bargaining chip,” the media groups said. “We call on the Afghan and Italian authorities, and all those who might be able to contact his abductors, to do everything possible to help bring about his release.”

An Italian aid group called Emergency has been in contact with Torsello’s purported kidnappers and said Tuesday that he would be released if an Afghan convert to Christianity, who has sought asylum in Italy, was returned to Afghanistan.

The convert, Abdul Rahman, had faced the death penalty in Afghanistan for rejecting Islam. He was granted asylum in Italy in March after apostasy charges against him were dropped in Afghanistan and he was released from prison under international pressure.

“(We) reject the kind of blackmail that endangers a journalist whose sole aim was to cover what life is like for the Afghan population,” the media organizations said in their statement.

Italy said Wednesday it was trying to verify the reported demand by Torsello’s kidnappers.

The kidnappers set a deadline of the end of Ramadan on Sunday night, according to the Italian news Web site, PeaceReporter. Late Wednesday, the Web site released another statement saying the kidnappers had again contacted Emergency and demanded Italy withdraw its troops from Afghanistan if releasing Rahman was not possible.

Italy has about 1,800 troops in the 30,000-strong NATO-led force in the country.

The Foreign Ministry in Rome confirmed that Emergency had received another call, and said it had “activated all its channels” to help free Torsello, but declined to say whether negotiations were taking place.

Meanwhile, the hostage’s family expressed hope that Torsello would be released soon.

“Despite yesterday’s news, we are very confident,” the hostage’s father, Marcello Torsello, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency from the family’s hometown of Alessano, Italy.

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