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Taliban releases foreign journalists who were detained while working for U.N. refugee agency

An Afghan doctor checks refugees recently returned from Pakistan during registration at a U.N. refugee agency center on the outskirts of Kabul in 2013. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two journalists and Afghan nationals working for the United Nations were released by the Taliban on Friday, according to the United Nations, hours after the news of their detention in Kabul was made public.

“We are relieved that we can confirm the release in Kabul of the two journalists on assignment with UNHCR, and the Afghan nationals working with them,” the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement.

“We are grateful to all who expressed concern and offered help. We remain committed to the people of Afghanistan,” the statement continued.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also tweeted that the detained foreign nationals had been released. In his post, Mujahid said the “foreign nationals who identified themselves with an international organization were detained because they did not have the necessary identity cards, licenses, and documents.”

Earlier Friday, a member of a Taliban intelligence unit in Kabul said that “several foreign nationals” had been arrested there on charges of working for Western intelligence agencies. A person familiar with the matter confirmed that the two journalists were not Afghan. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the arrests with the press.

The person familiar with the arrest said that the two journalists and the Afghan nationals were detained “earlier this week” and that days of negotiations had failed to secure their release.

Separately, details of the Taliban’s arrest of a dual German and English national, Peter Jouvenal, were also made public Friday in a statement approved by his family, according to an advocate for his release, David Lyon. Jouvenal, a businessman and former journalist, was arrested in Kabul in early December after traveling to Afghanistan to discuss investment opportunities and has not been allowed to contact his family, according to the statement.

Following news of the journalists’ release, Lyon said Jouvenal remains in detention.

Former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh claimed in a tweet that Jouvenal and the two foreign journalists were among other foreign nationals in Taliban custody. Saleh did not provide further information on who else is being held.

Afghan journalists and civil-society activists have come under increasing pressure in recent weeks as they push back against restrictions under Taliban rule. A number of female protesters have been abducted; despite international pressure, most remain detained. One of them, Parwana Ibrahimkhil, was released Friday after three weeks in prison, her family told The Washington Post.

Taliban officials have denied any involvement in the abductions of the female protesters and have pledged to respect media freedom. But the group’s fighters routinely use force to break up protests, and Taliban leaders have called on journalists to “be committed to the national interest and Islamic principles.”

In general, foreign journalists have not been targeted by harsh Taliban tactics to the same degree as Afghan journalists. Taliban leaders have repeatedly claimed that the country is safe for foreigners as they have called on foreign embassies and aid organizations to resume operations. But the prolonged detention of foreign journalists without charge has the potential to discourage greater international engagement.

The international community has urged the Taliban to demonstrate greater respect for human rights, most recently at meetings in Norway and Switzerland. Taliban leadership is pressing for international recognition and more humanitarian aid to alleviate a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Read more:

Faced with disappearances, beatings and intimidation, Afghanistan’s women’s rights activists go quiet on the streets

A popular Uzbek commander fought for the Taliban for more than two decades. He was arrested anyway.

Taliban wages campaign of targeted killings against former members of Afghan security forces

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