CBC journalist Mellissa Fung was released into the custody of Canadian officials in Kabul on Saturday, four weeks after she was abducted.
Fung was taken by armed men who approached her in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul on Oct. 12. The journalist, who was stationed at the NATO military base in Kandahar but was visiting the Kabul-area camp to report on a story, was then taken to the mountains west of the Afghan capital.
As news of her release emerged on Saturday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that she was in good health and undergoing a medical examination.
News of the abduction had been kept secret over concerns about her safety.
“In the interest of Mellissa’s safety and that of other working journalists in the region, on the advice of security experts, we made the decision to ask media colleagues not to publish news of her abduction,” CBC News publisher John Cruickshank said. “All of the efforts made by the security experts were focused on Mellissaâ€™s safe and timely release.”
“Fung’s family was in daily contact with the team at CBC that was trying to negotiate this and help this go forward to the successful conclusion,” said CBC journalist Susan Ormiston, who has also filed stories from Afghanistan.
Ormiston said several other reporters have gone into the same camp where Fung was taken. Fung was visiting the camp for internally displaced people to report on refugees who have streamed back into Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran.
“It’s a difficult situation. It’s a management of risk all the time, and it’s something that we journalists do on a regular basis,” she said.
Fung herself first alerted authorities about her kidnapping on her portable phone. Her captors were not Taliban militants, she said, but unaffiliated bandits.
Adam Khan Serat, spokesman for the provincial governor in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, said the journalist was freed after tribal elders and provincial council members negotiated her release.
“I cannot offer any detail about how the negotiations were managed in any respect,” Cruickshank said. “We can’t discuss any demands or promises made to secure her release, except to say it is the policy of the CBC not to pay ransom, and we followed that policy to the letter.”
“She sounded terrific, and she said she hadn’t been harmed in any way,” CBC president Hubert Lacroix said. “She said she was sorry for all the trouble she caused.”
Mellissa Fung’s mother, Joyce Fung, speaking with CBC News on Saturday.
Harper thanks Afghan government
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters that no ransom was paid. He also thanked all those who “worked so tirelessly” to help win Fung’s release, singling out Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“I spoke with President Karzai immediately following her kidnapping, and he assured me of the full co-operation and engagement of his government, and he has delivered,” Harper said.
“This is wonderful news for her family, for her colleagues and for all Canadians,” the prime minister said.
Lacroix thanked Canadian and Afghan government officials, as well as dozens of media organizations in Canada and around the world that agreed not to publicize the abduction during the reporter’s month-long ordeal.
“Mellissa is now safe and in reasonable health, given the more than four weeks [she spent] in these difficult circumstances,” he said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
“She is being examined by Canadian medical staff in Kabul and soon she will be flying to another location in the Middle East in preparation for her return to Canada.
“Plans are being made to reunite Mellissa with her family as soon as possible,” he added.
Lacroix said employees at the public broadcaster prepare “rigorously” for the possibility that a journalist may be abducted in a conflict zone, but no amount of planning or training could prepare them for the feeling of “hopelessness, anger and dread” they felt after hearing about Fung’s abduction.