CBC reporter Mellissa Fung was abducted, stabbed and held captive in the Afghan desert for 28 days—and she wants to go back
In your new book, Under an Afghan Sky, you describe being taken hostage by Taliban sympathizers. Tell us about the abduction.
I had just finished an interview in a refugee camp in Kabul when a car sped through the gates and three men with guns jumped out, grabbed me and threw me into the vehicle. We drove for hours, and then they led me at gunpoint into the desert and forced me into a hole in the ground. It was a little taller than an elevator on its side. I could barely stand up.
You were stabbed in the shoulder and hand on the day you were taken. Do you have permanent injuries?
I have no feeling in part of my hand, and I have a scar on my shoulder. A friend calls it my Harry Potter scar because it itches sometimes, which she says means something bad is going to happen.
You were raised Catholic. In captivity, you felt alternately close to and abandoned by God. How has your faith been affected?
It’s complicated. I have a hard time reconciling the fact that I was praying to my god while my kidnapper was praying to his god after he stabbed me.
You were eventually freed in a prisoner swap. Who orchestrated that?
The head of Afghan intelligence had a line on who my kidnappers were, and he arrested the mother of one of them in Pakistan. I was swapped for her.
How did that play out?
They marched me at gunpoint for hours, then handed me over to a local official. But I had no idea whether I was actually free. They could have been swapping me with another group or handing me over to the Taliban. The walk was so beautiful. I’ll never forget it. There were no lights, just stars. It was so bright.
What was it like after your release, when you came back to Toronto?
Surreal. I hid out for a few weeks. Then I went back to work as quickly as I could.
How are you doing now?
I’m okay, but it still haunts me, especially when other journalists are kidnapped.
What do you think of CBS reporter Lara Logan’s decision to go public with the fact that she was sexually assaulted while covering the protests in Egypt?
It was really brave of her. As a woman you don’t want to give a sense that you’re vulnerable in a war zone in a way that men aren’t.
It sparked a larger conversation about female foreign correspondents. What was your response to Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun, who said that female journalists with young children should never go to war zones?
That’s crazy. Women bring a lot to war coverage that men don’t. Men generally want to be out with the troops when the bang bang is going on. They want to go out in the new helicopters. Female reporters can connect more easily with Muslim women, which is vital because social issues such as the rights and opportunities of women provide a valuable gauge of how a war is going. Of course, we can do the bang bang, too.
How do you respond to people who say, “Well, what did she expect? She was in Afghanistan.”
I don’t accept that. People can’t say, “It’s their own fault if something happens.” We know the risks, but it’s our job. If not for journalists, the public wouldn’t know what was going on. Soldiers have given their lives. We owe it to them and their families to keep covering the mission.
Would you ever go back to Afghanistan?
Yes. I’m ready to go back. I thought that finishing the book would help me move on, but now I think the only thing that will help is to go back and tell the stories that need to be told.