“Dinner with the Taliban” - reporter Yvonne Ridley's 2002 talk in Cambridge

Woman with a headscarf holding a michrophone and sheets of papers
Yvonne Ridley speaking outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square, 15 July 2006

Yvonne Ridley, the journalist detained in Afghanistan by the Taliban, spoke in Cambridge on Monday 28th January 2002. Yvonne spoke of her experience in Afghanistan, her detention by the Taliban and her release.

This was the first of a series of talks organised by an independent group of students at Cambridge University. Prior to hearing Yvonne speak you would be forgiven for having misconceptions, as the press have criticised Yvonne heavily, perhaps to dismiss what she has to say.

She stated that the Taliban are described as one of the most evil regimes in the world, yet she felt that she had been treated well. For example, when she complained of the conditions of her room, one of the leaders of the Taliban gave up his room for her. She then commented with irony of the US treatment of the 'detainees' at Guantanamo bay.

Whilst detained by the Taliban, she was questioned repeatedly with the same style of questions, however on the fourth day they suddenly became quiet. At this point Yvonne had convinced herself that she was going to be executed. However, fortunately the questioning then continued but with a change in the type of questions she was asked. The reason for the change in question was because of the tax returns that the Taliban had received. These tax returns had been altered to suggest she was employed by two different sources; as a journalist; and as a spy. She stated explicitly in reply to a question asking why this would be the case, that she believed this was to provoke her execution and therefore, prove that the Taliban were an evil regime. She believed that this was too make a stronger case for the bombing of Afghanistan and to silence any anti-war believers by illustrating ' the evil regime' of the Taliban. Even though the Taliban had already agreed to release her, the U.S. and Allies bombed Afghanistan before she was released. When asked who would have altered her tax returns, she replied that the Afghans would not think of altering (or even requesting) her tax returns as they are not familiar with such a system, but the Americans would.

She believed that Paul Ashford, the editorial director of Express Newspapers, had contributed to securing her release through a face-to-face discussion with the Taliban. Yvonne mentioned the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, whom the U.S. were not interesting in 'freeing' and therefore, she did not believe that the motivation for the US to bomb Afghanistan was to free the 'oppressed' women.

One of the small villages that Yvonne had visited prior to her capture, was repeatedly bombed by the U.S. and allies. This was the village of Kama, where there were women, whom Yvonne described as strong spirited and resilient and most important of all, there were no Taliban. At first, Yvonne thought this must be a military mistake, however the fact that Kama was bombed repeatedly has led her to belief otherwise. Yvonne stated that one of her reasons for agreeing to speak at this talk is that she was a witness in this war, and therefore felt it was necessary to inform the public of her experiences.