Three Italian aid workers arrested in southern Afghanistan on April 10 for allegedly plotting to kill a provincial governor have been freed, according to the AP.
The case against the Italians, employees of the Milan-based medical relief charity Emergency, looked suspicious from the start, and Emergency’s leadership asserted its staff were innocent from the moment the Italians were arrested along with six Afghan colleagues at a hospital in the city of Lashkar Gah.
Emergency is one of the largest medical relief organizations operating in Afghanistan, and runs three hospitals in different provinces, 28 clinics and an orphanage.
In the rugged northern province of Panjshir, Emergency’s 100 bed facility is the only hospital.
According to the AFP, 12,500 Panjshir residents signed or thumb-printed a petition calling for the release of the three detained Italians.
“The people need us, that’s why we are here,” Michaela Franz, Emergency’s medical coordinator in Panjshir told the AFP. “If we go, they have nothing, we are the only hospital.”
It may already be too late. Emergency is being pressured to cease operations in the country, and powerful segments within the Afghan security and intelligence forces are becoming increasingly hostile to aid workers.
“They have not been very clever politically,” said one foreign aid official, speaking to the AFP on condition of anonymity, “but what is happening to Emergency could be part of a wider trend.”