Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have reportedly detained two foreign journalists and their local colleagues for reasons not immediately known.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in a brief statement, confirmed the detentions, saying the journalists were working for the relief agency. It did not identify the journalists and the Afghans or who took them into custody.
“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 said.
“We will make no further comment given the nature of the situation,” the refugee agency tweeted.
Taliban authorities have yet to comment.
The UNHCR statement came just hours after Afghanistan’s former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said on Twitter that Taliban had “kidnapped” nine Westerners, including former BBC journalist Andrew North. He identified another Westerner in custody as Peter Juvenal.
“Due to no media, no reporting by citizens and a suffocating atmosphere, corruption, crime and atrocities aren't well exposed,” Saleh wrote. “As an example, nine citizens of western countries have been kidnapped, amongst them Andrew North of BBC & Peter [Jouvenal], owner of Gandomak Restaurant,” he added.
North, who has reported from Baghdad and Beirut for BBC, has been working as an independent journalist in Afghanistan and meeting with Taliban leaders, according to his personal website.
The Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement denounced the detentions, saying it is a sad reflection of the overall decline of press freedom and increasing attacks on journalists under Taliban rule.
“Andrew North and the other unidentified journalist should be freed immediately and allowed to continue their work, and the Taliban must halt its repeated attacks on and harassment of journalists,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
The CPJ quoted a U.N. official in Kabul as telling the media rights group on the condition of anonymity that North was detained on Tuesday.
The Taliban have been cracking down on dissent since regaining control of Afghanistan last August, briefly detaining several local journalists and subjecting them to physical violence. But no foreign journalists have been detained until now.
Several women activists have also allegedly been detained by Taliban security forces for taking part in anti-government protests and demanding rights for women. The Islamist rulers have denied they are behind the disappearances and have repeatedly pledged to respect rights of all Afghans.
The U.N. has pressed the Taliban to investigate their disappearance.
“I am increasingly concerned about the well-being of missing women activists in Afghanistan. Several have ‘disappeared,’ some not heard from in weeks,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Thursday
“I strongly urge the Taliban to ensure their safety so that they can return home,” he said.