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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

French Journalist Charged with Spying By Taliban

Aired October 19, 2001 - 05:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Two Western journalists covering the U.S. war on terrorism have been snared in its hazards. The Taliban detaining French journalist Michel Peyrard and his two Pakistani guides on October 9th. The three are charged with spying.

Now this charge is one that carries the death penalty in Afghanistan. This charge is being based upon the fact that Peyrard went into Afghanistan wearing a burka -- one of those long veils that covers the women there. Now the Taliban freed British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, you may recall. For 10 days before the British authorities were able to secure her release, Ridley got into Afghanistan doing the same thing, disguising herself with one of those traditional burka veils.

We're joined this morning by Marion Mertens. She is editor of the French illustrated magazine, "Paris Match" , the publication that Peyrard works for. She joins us now live from Paris. We thank you very much for your time today.

I know this has got to be a trying time for you and "Paris Match" , but the first question that occurs to us is did "Paris Match" send Peyrard into Afghanistan wearing this veil or was this his idea?

MARION MERTENS, EDITOR, "PARIS MATCH MAGAZINE": Well Michel was sent to Pakistan -- he was sent over there to cover whatever is going on in Afghanistan. He had decided the week before his arrest to go inside Afghanistan to report on what was going on. He filed a report the first week, came back okay to Pakistan, and the second week for our deadline, which was right after the first U.S. strikes, he decided to go back into Afghanistan because he was particularly interested to report on what was going on right after the strikes.

So it was his decision, backed up by us.

HARRIS: He had to know that was very dangerous for that to happen, for him to go in under -- with that kind of disguise, while those airstrikes were going on. As I read the reports, I understand he was discovered when he was actually getting on board a ferry and someone thought that he looked -- he was getting on like a man would and not like a woman.

Is that what you've heard as well?

MERTENS : It's not very clear. The circumstances of his arrest are not very clear. We're not sure and there have been reports that it was during -- when he was boarding a ferry. There were other reports about walking around the streets, so we're not really clear about it. We haven't talked to him directly, so we don't know.

HARRIS: So you have not had direct contact with him. Have you had any kind of contact with him at all?

MERTENS : No we've -- no we have had no direct contact since the last time, Monday the eighth, when he filed his report on the satellite phone from Afghanistan, and we have heard his voice through the report of a Pakistani journalist, Mr. Ussi, who was in the pool of journalists, who was allowed to go into Jalalabad and who met him in a house where he is kept right now.

HARRIS: As I understand it, President Jacques Chirac is quite concerned because of some words that were expressed by the French Defense Minister Alain Richard . He said -- he was boasting as to how the report came out -- he was boasting about the fact that France has been participating in these covert activities in Afghanistan and he says this publicly and therefore, it sort of opens the door for the Taliban to charge Mr. Peyrard with spying.

Are you concerned at all about the words that your defense minister uttered yesterday?

MERTENS : No. I mean, you know, when Yvonne Ridley was arrested, no one had talked about any special forces -- British special forces and she was accused of spying. So I think it's unfortunately something that any journalist arrested -- any man and journalist arrested there is accused of.

I think, you know, we have made very clear to the Taliban authorities that Michel is a journalist and nothing else, and he's been covering wars and conflicts and news for the last 18 years. So ...

HARRIS: OK.

MERTENS : There's no ambiguity about it and we want ...

HARRIS: I understand. Finally can you tell us when he is going to go on trial and what are you going to be doing about that?

MERTENS : Once again, we have absolutely no direct news. We don't know. He was charged with spying, but there's no news about a trial. You know, I think in Afghanistan it's more like you know society is where there's a trial and a date for a trial, and there's actually something legal going on.

I mean right now it's an accusation, but we don't know more.

HARRIS: Marion Mertens , thank you very much for your time this morning, and we wish you all good luck. We understand. We've had our journalists behind the scenes in various countries and we understand how you must feel.

Good luck.

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