KABUL (AFP): Two international journalists who were on an assignment for the UN refugee agency have been detained in the Afghan capital, the UNHCR said on Friday.
The detentions come nearly six months after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan following a lightning offensive that ousted the former Western-backed government.
“Two journalists on assignment with UNHCR and Afghan nationals working with them have been detained in Kabul. We are doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others,” the UNHCR tweeted.
One of the journalists is Andrew North, a British former BBC correspondent who has covered Afghanistan for about two decades and regularly travelled to the war-ravaged country to report on its deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
“Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR, trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” his wife Natalia Antelava tweeted.
“We are extremely concerned for his safety & call on anyone with influence to help secure his release.”
Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the authorities were looking into the matter.
“We have received information about this and are trying to confirm whether they have been detained or not,” Mujahid said.
Since the Taliban seized power, the United Nations has been focussing on how to coordinate and provide essential humanitarian assistance to millions of impoverished people across the country.
TALKS WITH WEST
News of the detentions comes as a British delegation led by Hugo Shorter — the head of the UK’s mission to Afghanistan, currently based in Qatar — flew to Kabul to meet with foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Thursday.
Shorter said he has discussed the humanitarian crisis as well as human rights abuses with the Taliban officials.
The hardline Islamists are desperately trying to win international legitimacy as they battle a crippling financial crisis sparked by the freezing of aid and assets held abroad, worsening a devastating humanitarian crisis.
No country has yet formally recognised the government, but the Taliban have recently travelled to Europe for talks in Oslo and Geneva to meet with the West.
Security has vastly improved since the Taliban defeated Nato-backed Afghan forces, but the hardline Islamist group has forcefully cracked down on journalists.
At least 50 Afghan media workers have been arrested or detained by the police or the Taliban intelligence agency, Reporters Without Borders said in a report earlier this month.
The arrests, often accompanied by violence, have lasted from several hours to nearly a week, it said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the arrests were “a sad reflection of the overall decline of press freedom and increasing attacks on journalists under Taliban rule”.
Afghanistan has long been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the news media.
Several journalists, including women, were killed in a spree of targeted attacks blamed on the Taliban in the build up to their stunning offensive to take back control.
Taliban critics have also been detained.
Four women protesters have been missing since last month after taking part in anti-Taliban demonstrations.
The Taliban authorities have denied any involvement.