Taliban Says It Released Detained UN Journalist Andrew North, Others

The Taliban said journalist Andrew North and eight others have been released after their detainment in Afghanistan Friday.

Former BBC journalist North, who was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a second journalist who has not yet been identified and the Afghan nationals who had been working with them were detained in the capital of Kabul, the UNHCR said in a statement on Twitter on Friday. The Independent news website reported that nine people in total had been detained. Tajuden Soroush, an Afghan journalist, stated on his Twitter that the Taliban later said the group had been released.

The reason for the detainment has not yet been specified, though the UNHCR confirmed in the Twitter post North and the others were working for the agency at the time. Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan's former vice president, speculated on Twitter it had to do with the fact that they are journalists. Since August 2021, at least 50 journalists and media workers have been detained or arrested in Afghanistan, a Reporters Without Borders report published last week said.

"Due to no media, no reporting by citizens and a suffocating atmosphere, corruption, crime and atrocities aren't well exposed," he wrote. "As an example 9 citizens of Western countries hv [sic] been kidnapped amongst them Andrew North of BBC."

North has been covering Afghanistan for about 20 years and would often travel to the country to report on its humanitarian issues, CBS News reported.

Natalia Antelava, a journalist and North's wife, asked for help in getting her husband released on her Twitter.

"Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR & trying to help the people of Afghanistan," she wrote. "We are extremely concerned for his safety & call on anyone with influence to help secure his release."

The UNHCR added in its Twitter post that members were "doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others."

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in the CBS report the government was trying to confirm whether North and the others had been detained. A spokesman for the Taliban's intelligence agency, Khalil Hamraz, told CBS News his agency had trouble finding who had taken them.

Soroush's post did not specify the details of the group's release.

The Reporters Without Borders report said the Taliban's intelligence agency, called the Istikhbarat, and the Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Suppressing Vice are "directly implicated" in "the surge in threats, summonses for interrogation and arbitrary arrests" of journalists in the country over the past few months. It added that the Istikhbarat also has a history of making threatening calls to journalists and "inviting" them to stop covering certain issues.

"Threatening to rip out journalists' tongues in order to prevent them from covering certain subjects is completely unacceptable," Reza Moini, the head of Reporters Without Borders' Iran-Afghanistan desk, said in the report. "Journalists must be able to practice their profession without being under a permanent threat of arrest and torture."

Update 02/11/22 2:05 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information and Twitter statements.

Kabul, Afghanistan
The Taliban said it has released journalist Andrew North and eight others after capturing them the same day. Above, a U.S. Chinook military helicopter flies above the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images