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Italian journalist kidnapped

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Fears for Italian journalist kidnapped in southern Afghanistan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has described the kidnapping of London-based Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello as an appalling attack on journalists' rights and called for his immediate release.

Torsello reportedly made a phone call on Saturday October 15 to the security chief at a hospital in Lashgar Gah, Helmand's provincial capital, saying he had been kidnapped on Thursday and did not know where he now was.

According to news reports, a subsequent phone call to Torsello's mobile phone was answered by a man who responded: "We are the Taliban and we have abducted the foreigner on charges of spying."

Torsello's travelling companion Gholam Mohammad has reportedly confirmed that Torsello had been seized by five gunmen. But a Taliban spokesman claims the photojournalist was actually being held by a criminal group. Subsequently, a group contacted aid workers to say Torsello was "fine" and that it would be making ransom demands soon.

IFJ President Christopher Warren said: "This is yet another appalling incident that treats journalists' lives as bargaining chips in a cruel kidnap ransom scenario."

"All sides to this conflict must respect the independent role of journalists. We call on Gabriele's kidnappers to release him unharmed immediately and for the Afghanistan Government to do its utmost to protect journalists," Warren said.

Kidnappings, for political as well as criminal reasons, have been on the rise in Afghanistan.

The IFJ marked the second anniversary of democratic elections in Afghanistan last week by calling on the government to take immediate action to put an end to the violence and targeted attacks against journalists, and censorship of the media which have marred the last two years of democracy.

Just days before the anniversary, two German journalists were tragically killed in the Baghlan province of Afghanistan on October 6.

Afghanistan remains an extremely dangerous country for journalists to work and violence against journalists is a common method used to silence independent voices.

"The Afghan Government must make every effort to protect journalists and ensure that they can carry out their duties in safety," IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries.

For further information, contact IFJ Asia Pacific, tel: +61 2 9333 0919, e-mail: ifj@ifj-asia.org, or the IFJ, International Press Centre, Residence Palace, Block C, 155 Rue de la Loi, B-1040 Brussels, Belgium, tel: +322 235 2200 or +322 235 2207, fax: +322 235 2219, e-mail: rachel.cohen@ifj.org, Internet: http://www.ifj.org/

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