Taliban releases Austrian far-right activist held in Afghanistan

Vienna says its national has arrived in Doha after mediation by the Qatari government helped secure his release.

Austrian national Herbert Fritz speaks to the media after disembarking from a plane, in Doha, Qatar [Arafat Barbakh/Reuters]Published On 25 Feb 202425 Feb 2024

The Taliban has released Herbert Fritz, an 84-year-old Austrian far-right nationalist, who was arrested in Afghanistan last May.

The Austrian government said in a statement on Sunday that Fritz arrived in Doha, Qatar earlier in the day after mediation by the Qatari government helped to secure his release.

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Fritz was arrested last year after defying Austria’s long-standing warning against travel to Afghanistan, which in 2021 returned to the rule of the Taliban.

“I think it was bad luck but I want to visit again,” he told reporters on arrival in Doha, when asked about his ordeal.

“There were some nice people but there were some foolish people also, I’m sorry,” Fritz added, describing his captors.

After his arrest, Austria’s Der Standard newspaper said Fritz had gone to Afghanistan and reported positively on life there. He published an article titled “Vacations with the Taliban” via a far-right media outlet.

This helped fuel anti-immigration arguments that Afghanistan was a safe country to which refugees could return, the newspaper said.

The Taliban arrested him on suspicion of spying, and Austrian neo-Nazis made his case public via Telegram channels, Der Standard said.

Austria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had been working to secure Fritz’s release since May, and thanked Qatar and the European Union representation in Kabul for assisting its efforts to bring about his return to Austria.

A spokesperson for the Austrian ministry told the Associated Press news agency that Fritz had been held in a prison in Kabul.

Writing on X, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer thanked the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and his team for their “strong support in releasing one of our citizens from prison in Afghanistan”.

“It is only due to our trusted collaboration that this Austrian citizen will be able to return home to his daughter and grandchildren,” Nehammer said.

Fritz was a founding member of the country’s National Democratic Party (NDP), an extreme right group banned in 1988, according to Der Standard and other media outlets.

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which has been leading in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections due later this year, had pressed for Fritz’s release. The party has said he was researching a book in Afghanistan.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed gratitude on X for the “caretaker government in Afghanistan” for releasing the Austrian.

“The State of Qatar has proven, regionally and globally, that it is a trusted international partner in various important issues,” the ministry said. “It spares no effort in harnessing its energy and ability in the areas of mediation, preventive diplomacy, and settling disputes through peaceful means.”

Source: News Agencies