Taliban detain UNHCR staff, 2 foreign journalists in Kabul

The Taliban have detained two foreign journalists on assignment with the U.N. refugee agency and a number of its Afghan staff working in the country’s capital, UNHCR said Friday.

The development in Kabul comes as President Joe Biden was expected to issue an executive order that would allow U.S. financial institutions to facilitate access to $3.5 billion of assets for Afghan aid.

“Two journalists on assignment with UNHCR and Afghan nationals working with them have been detained in Kabul,” the refugee agency tweeted. “We are doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others.”

The Geneva-based organization refused to comment further. The Taliban so far have not replied to queries for information about the detained.

One of the detained is Andrew North, a former British Broadcasting Corporation journalist who has worked extensively in Afghanistan. His wife, Natalia Antelava issued a plea on Twitter for his release.

“Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR @Refugees trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” Antelava said. “We are extremely concerned for his safety & call on anyone with influence to help secure his release.”

The Committee to Protect Journalist condemned the detentions and called for the immediate release of the journalists.

“The Taliban must immediately release Andrew North and all other journalists held for their work, and cease harassing and detaining members of the press,” the CPJ statement said, noting they were detained on Tuesday.

The Taliban swept over Afghanistan, capturing Kabul and much of the country in mid-August, as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final, chaotic weeks of their pullout following the 20-year intervention.

“The Taliban’s detention of two journalists on assignment with the U.N. refugee agency is a sad reflection of the overall decline of press freedom and increasing attacks on journalists under Taliban rule,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said in Washington.

The international community has been wary of officially recognizing Afghanistan’s new rulers, concerned the Taliban would impose the same harsh rule as they did when they were previously in power in the 1990s.

In the wake of the takeover, international funding was suspended and billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s assets abroad, mostly in the United States, were frozen and financial aid to the government was largely halted, pushing the Afghan economy further into a tailspin.

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