One of our photographers was missing

ANY DOUBT about the relevance of email networks to freelances should be banished by NUJPhoto's response to the kidnap of Gabriele Torsello. Within an hour of the news breaking, I was on the phone to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - only because I had been alerted by a NUJPhoto subscriber. From that point on, the photographers on the network worked tirelessly in conjunction with the Freelance Office. I don't think we will ever know the full story of Gabriele's sudden and dramatic release. Equally, no one could decry the network's efforts. Below, Pete Jenkins describes how events unfolded.

PHOTOGRAPHERS and NUJ members were shocked to learn that photographer and London Freelance Branch member Gabriele Torsello, known to friends and clients alike as "Kash GT" had been kidnapped in October in Afghanistan - by a still-unidentified group. He was travelling by bus between the provinces of Helmund and Kandahar.

Kash took his lens-name from his initials and from Kashmir, where he had previously reported. He is a convert to Islam. The original notification that Kash was missing appeared on NUJPhoto email networking list in a posting from veteran David Hoffman. Many NUJ members took an immediate interest. Graham Harrison picked out an earlier post from Kash indicating what he was intending to do in Afghanistan and Photographers Sub Committee Chair Kevin Cooper alerted John Toner who immediately contacted the Foreign Office.

Importantly, Marco Secchi kept us in touch and talked to reporters from Peace Reporter in Milan. From this, more info on Kash was distilled. In the meantime, NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear contacted the International Federation of Journalists. A number of photographers contacted different agencies and slowly but surely the story became clearer. We soon had a page up on www.NUJphoto.co.uk, with Graham Harrison acting as a hub, helping to co-ordinate activities.

Marco got in touch with Gabriele's family and we had daily reports from them and from the Italian government. Through Digital Railroad we got some of Kash's pictures to use on the web page to show that Kash was a photojournalist - his kidnappers had accused him of being a spy. Dan Sumption gave permission to use a picture he had taken a few months before Kash left the UK.

By Tuesday I had managed to contact Muslim peer Lord Nazir Ahmed, who knew Kash, and who assisted in contacting imams in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We also contacted numerous Muslim organisations including Regent's Park Mosque. Contacts were made with Zuma, Kash's American agency and with Yvonne Ridley, the former Express journalist kidnapped by the Taliban a few years ago.

By now we had coverage on Radio 5 and numerous websites. The first deadline given by the kidnappers thankfully passed without incident, and we called a press conference at the NUJ's HQ, Headland House, to raise the profile as high as possible in Italy, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I believe this was a huge success. Lord Ahmed, Yvonne Ridley and Kash's English speaking, London-based cousin Donatella attended and did numerous interviews.

The Freelance Office helped assemble a press pack and got press releases to Italy, Afghanistan and Pakistan. While we were doing this, the family had appealed to the Italian public. On 28 October all the Italian premier and first division football club players went out onto the pitches wearing "Free Gabriele Torsello" T-shirts. The following day Italian Muslim organisations started campaigning intensively for Kash's release.

On 2 November we got some great news with the report that Kash had spoken by phone to the Emergency Hospital at Lashkar-Gar. Finally on 3 November we learned that Kash had been released. I picked up the first report in Italian early in the morning and was able to alert all concerned. Did we make a difference? I don't honestly know, but I do know that because we had NUJPhoto we were able to work together and get information back and forth to each other. We were able to connect with the imams in Afghanistan, and the bottom line is Kash was released.

  • NUJPhoto is a vital resource for photographers in the NUJ - and if you are a union member and a photographer and not already a subscriber, go to the website at www.londonfreelance.org and click on "Networks".
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