Relief comes amid questions as French journalists are finally released in Afghanistan

It turns out my feminist post will have to wait a little longer, due to breaking news in the interim.


Wednesday was an exciting day at work. One of those days where something huge happens - but it’s good news, a bit like the day Laurent Gbagbo was arrested in Ivory Coast. It’s an event which is predictable enough, but still comes as a surprise. In other words, it’s breaking news.


I’m talking, of course, about the release of the two French TV journalists, Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, who had been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The two men had been filming a report for France 3 public television when they were kidnapped with three Afghan colleagues. It is not entirely clear whether they were captured by the Taliban, or simply handed over to them at a later date. The journalists had been held hostage for exactly a year and a half, the longest period of detention of any French journalist in the field since the Lebanese civil war. Coincidence or not, the news of their release broke just as a gathering of supporters in central Paris to mark the 18 months of their detention was winding up. Ghesquière’s girlfriend took the phone call from French President Nicolas Sarkozy himself announcing the good news.


I guessed what had happened when I heard the following snippets of dialogue not far off in the newsroom, all in French. “Matthieu is saying…” “Is he sure?” “What is the Quai saying?” “They won’t confirm”.


Matthieu is one of our reporters, and he was covering the gathering to mark the two journalists’ detention. I had seen footage of him a little earlier standing not far from the Pompidou Centre (that rather strange building with all the pipes on the outside) and doing a live stand-up. I therefore knew that whatever was happening had something to do with the hostages, and so - ever the optimist - my first thought was that they had been released. The Quai is the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry. Obviously in a case like this they would be the first people you would try to phone for confirmation.


France 24’s Matthieu Mabin reporting from the scene (in French)


Of course, Matthieu was right and the news was soon confirmed by France Télévisions (France 3’s umbrella group), Reporters Without Borders, and finally Nicolas Sarkozy himself in a statement from the Elysée palace, adding that the journalists' interpreter had also been released. (In the end, the Quai was one of the last people to confirm).


On Wednesday night, France 3’s sister channel France 2 had an hour-long special news bulletin during which they interviewed the visibly relieved foreign minister, Alain Juppé. Asked if a ransom was paid to secure the men’s release, he replied “France does not pay ransoms”. Expecting this response, the journalist tries again. “If it was the case, would you tell us?” But Juppé is unflappable. “There are cases where state imperatives take priority over other considerations and I think one should not do anything that could threaten the process of releasing the other hostages [elsewhere]”. In other words: no.



French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé reacts to the good news on France 2 television


The questions are only just beginning. But that’s at least one big piece of breaking news that’s done and dusted.

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