London-based Gabrielle Torsello, 36, a member of both EPUK and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), has been missing since he was abducted at gunpoint. Torsello was taken by five armed men while travelling with his interpreter between Helmand and Kandahar in the south of the country.
His kidnappers have demanded the withdrawal of Italian troops from the NATO force in Afghanistan in return for his release, and have set a deadline for the end of Ramadan on Sunday.
However, Italian Defence Minister Arturo Parisi has ruled out withdrawing the country’s 1,800 troops which make up part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Pasisi told journalists ““We are in Afghanistan and we will stay there”.
The new demand came after an earlier request by the kidnappers to exchange Torsello, a convert to Islam, for Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who fled the country under a death sentence after converting to Christianity, was rejected.
According to Italian website Peace Reporter, the kidnappers revised their demands, saying “If it’s not possible to obtain the Afghan apostate, then we want all the Italian troops out of Afghanistan”
It was reported this evening that Torsello had spoken via telephone to the negotiators, and while he confirmed that he was being held in satistactory conditions, he admitted he was very worried about the imminent deadline.
In a joint statement, Reporters Sans Frontiers and the National Union of Journalists said: “A journalist is neither a spy nor a bargaining chip. 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. And we reject the kind of blackmail that endangers a journalist whose sole aim was to cover what life is like for the Afghan population.”
“An unjust act performed against a brother”
Lord Ahmed, Britain’s first Muslim peer, and who wrote the introduction to Torsello’s book Heart of Kashmir, told Peace Reporter “The abduction is an unjust act performed against a brother, since Kash is a Muslim.”
“I know him well, and I know he has always fought to show to the world the violence in Kashmir, and the violence of the places he goes or he’s gone. In Afghanistan too he went to witness and highlight a situation of violence and war.”
Torsello, a practising Muslim who attends Regents Park Mosque in London, has received widespread acclaim for his humanitarian photojournalism in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. His self-published book on Kashmir, a culmination of photographs shot between 1996 and 2003, was widely praised for its independence and compassion.
Lord Ahmed added: “If if you ask me what kind of person is Kash, I can guarantee you he is a fantastic person, an exceptional man. I feel very sorry for this act. Kash doesn’t deserve this. Set Kash free.”
Family’s faith in Italian authorities
The kidnappers, who are communicating by telephone with the Italian aid agency Emergency, have repeatedly refused offers of money for the return of the photojournalist. The Italian Foreign Minister has asked the kidnappers that future negotiations be conducted directly with the Italian authorities.
Torsello’s father, Marcello Torsello, said today: “It is not easy. I am the father and obviously I hope that things will end well: I feel this great strength inside of me that convinces me that the matter will be resolved. Gabriele is very courageous”.
At a press conference held yesterday in Torsello’s home town of Alessano, his family thanked the Italian government for their continual efforts to secure his release.
Torsello’s brother in law, Modesto Nicoli told reporters today: “We keep being confident because the Foreign Office repeatedly tells us to stay calm since they are working, have their contacts, but we don’t know the details. We have faith in their work. We cannot say more about it because it is the Foreign Office, not us, that negotiate, and we have faith in them”
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