Ridley in 2009
23 April 1958 |
Stanley, County Durham, England
Yvonne Ridley (born 23 April 1958) is a British journalist and former Respect Party activist. She was captured by the Taliban in 2001, and converted to Islam after release, later becoming an outspoken opponent of Zionism and vocal critic of Western media portrayals of the War on Terror.
Ridley attended the London College of Printing. As a journalist, she has written for The Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Observer, The Mirror and the News of the World. She was deputy editor of Wales on Sunday and was chief reporter when the Sunday Express sent her to Afghanistan after 9/11.
She has also delivered lectures on issues relating to Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Uzbekistan, Women in Islam, the War on Terror and journalism at universities across the US, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. She has written two books called In The Hands of the Taliban and Ticket to Paradise. Ridley is a patron of the UK-based pressure groups Cageprisoners, the European President of the International Muslim Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League based in Milan and Geneva. She is a member of the Stop the War Coalition, at whose rallies she has spoken, and the Respect Party, for whom she has stood in parliamentary elections.
Capture by the Taliban
Yvonne Ridley came to prominence on 28 September 2001, when she was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan whilst working for the Sunday Express. In the days before the start of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, refused an entrance visa, she decided to follow the example of BBC reporter John Simpson, who had crossed the border anonymously in a burqa.
She entered on 26 September and spent 2 days undercover in Afghanistan. It was on her return, traveling with her guides, that she was uncovered when the donkey she was on bolted and her camera was seen by a Taliban soldier. She was accused of being a spy, which carried a death sentence, and at the very least faced jail for illegally entering Afghanistan.
The British high commissioner to Pakistan, Hilary Synnott, met the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, and opened negotiations for her release. On 8 October she was released and escorted to the border, where she was handed over to the Pakistani authorities. It had been feared that this would be jeopardised by the bombing of Afghan targets as part of the War in Afghanistan that had commenced the previous day.
She revealed that she had kept a concealed diary inside a box for a toothpaste tube and in the inside of a soap wrapper. She had been on hunger strike throughout her captivity. She described her experience as terrifying but she was not physically hurt.
After her release, her guides Jan Ali and Nagibullah Muhmand, as well as his five-year-old daughter Basmena, were held in prison in Kabul. At least three of Muhmand's relatives were also arrested for aiding Ridley after the Taliban developed the film in her camera.
Conversion to Islam
During her captivity she was asked by one of her captors to convert to Islam; she refused, but gave her word she would read the Quran after her release. Once freed, she kept this promise and read the Quran looking for an explanation of the Taliban's treatment of women, only to find there wasn't any. Instead she decided it was "a magna carta for women", saying, "the Koran makes it clear that women are equal in spirituality, worth and education. What everyone forgets is that Islam is perfect; people are not."
In December 2001 Ridley released In the Hands of the Taliban, a memoir detailing the 10 days she was held captive. In it, she expressed worries that officers from Mossad, the Israeli secret service, or from other intelligence agencies, were plotting to have her killed in an effort to boost public support for the war in Afghanistan.
She quit her job with Express Newspapers and announced a return to Afghanistan to work on a sequel to her book. The sequel did not materialise, but she did return in 2002 as part of a holiday with her daughter Daisy.
In 2003 Ridley was employed by the Qatar-based media organisation Al Jazeera, where, as a senior editor, she helped launch their English-language website. In November of that year she was dismissed because Al Jazeera found her "overly-vocal and argumentative style" was incompatible with the station’s programme. Her termination of her employment was also attributed to her campaigning for journalists' rights on the Al Jazeera English channel and website. She brought a case for unfair dismissal against the organisation, winning that case and the subsequent appeals which took four years. She was awarded 100,000 Qatari riyals, which equated to around £14,000.
In December 2003 she released a novel, Ticket to Paradise, based on the backdrop of 9/11.
She began presenting The Agenda With Yvonne Ridley, the Islam Channel's politics and current affairs programme, in October 2005. In 2007 the Islam Channel was fined £30,000 by Ofcom after a series of breaches relating to Ridley, her show and another show. She resigned in April 2007, complaining that she had effectively been dismissed after relations between her and the channel's CEO, Mohamed Ali Harrath broke down. She brought a case of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. In April 2008, Ridley won and was awarded £26,000 in her case against the Islam Channel.
Ridley works as a freelance journalist/presenter and for several years regularly worked for Press TV, the Iranian English language 24-hour news channel. She hosted a weekly current affairs and politics show called The Agenda, last broadcast on 31 March 2012. She also wrote a column for the now-defunct Daily Muslims, an online newspaper for North American Muslims. It was in this paper that her article calling Chechen militant Islamist Shamil Basayev a shaheed, a Muslim honorific for "martyr", was published.
In May 2008, in an assignment for Press TV, she and the film-maker David Miller shot a documentary on the Guantanamo Bay detention camp where they filmed on-site and also interviewed former inmates. Their film Guantanamo: Inside the Wire was nominated in the 2009 Roma Fiction Fest in Italy, and in the 2010 Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Qatar. Another film made in 2009 was also nominated in the 2010 Aljazeera festival; In Search of Prisoner 650, directed by Hassan Ghani, claimed that Aafia Siddiqui was held prisoner in secret by the US.
In August 2008, Yvonne Ridley joined the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus as it headed for Gaza to challenge the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. She arrived without incident in Gaza on 23 August. During their brief stay Ridley interviewed Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh for Press TV. In early 2009 Ridley helped organise and took part in the Viva Palestina convoy of around 100 vehicles bearing aid across North Africa to Gaza via the Rafah border.
In July 2009, in the wake of Press TV's coverage of the 2009 Iranian presidential election and the subsequent protests, Ridley and other journalists working for Press TV were accused of being stooges for the Iranian regime.
Ridley was first on the Respect list for the 2004 European Elections for the North East England region, but was not elected; Respect placed last with 1.1% of the vote. She stood for them in the Leicester South by-election in 2004, where she came in fourth with 12.7% of the vote. When she stood again in the May 2005 general election, although she still placed fourth, her share of the vote had dropped to 6.4%. In the local government elections in 2006 she stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Westminster Council.
In the Rotherham by-election, 2012, held on 29 November, Ridley was the Respect Party candidate. "Respect Yourself", a leaflet distributed during the campaign which accused the Labour Party of racism, was attributed by Labour to Respect. Labour reported the matter to the police and the returning officer. Respect put the incident down to "dirty tricks"; the leaflet was without the legally required notice identifying the source. In the final result, Ridley came fourth with 1,778 votes or just over 8% of the total votes cast. Ridley has said that she resigned from the Respect Party in 2013 or 2014, although she has since been described as a party activist.
Ridley has been married five times: she married her first husband when she was 22; her second marriage, to a policeman, lasted seven years.; her third husband was Daoud (David) Zaaroura, the CEO of North of England Refugee Service and a former PLO officer, whom she met in Cyprus, where she was working on an assignment for the Newcastle-based Sunday Sun, and they have one daughter, Daisy Ridley, who was born in 1992; her fourth husband, to whom she was married until 1999, was Israeli Ilan Hermosh; her fifth husband is an Algerian.
During her time on the Sunday Sun newsdesk, she told colleagues she was an officer in the Territorial Army, based on Teesside, specialising in intelligence. She had also told the same to colleagues on the Northern Echo and repeated it in interviews.
Views and opinions
During a February 2006 meeting at Imperial College London Ridley described Israel as "that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East" and further that her party, the Respect Party, "is a Zionist-free party ... if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists," while both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were "riddled with Zionists."
At the "Muslimer i Dialog" conference in Copenhagen in September 2005, Ridley was asked by Danish terror expert Lars Erslev Andersen if she saw it as a problem that militant Islamists distribute recruiting videos of Iraqi insurgents killing hostages. She replied that it was necessary for Muslims to have these videos at home as an alternative form of news to what she perceived as the propaganda of Western media. At the same meeting she compared British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Pol Pot. She returned to Copenhagen in May 2006 to take part in an Islam Channel conference on Islamophobia and was given a standing ovation after urging Muslims not to "kneel before their enemies" or "kiss the hand that slaps them."
At a meeting of the Respect party on 6 June 2006, following the Forest Gate raid, Ridley urged all Muslims in Britain to "boycott the police and refuse to co-operate with them in any way, shape or form until the boys are released," including "asking the community copper for directions to passing the time of day with a beat officer." Her comments were labelled as "sheer, undiluted madness" by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, who added that "To not co-operate would be of no benefit to the Muslim community; no benefit to the police; and no benefit to the security of our country." Respect MP George Galloway quickly distanced himself from her comments, saying Ridley was wrong and, "Our policy is not that we should withdraw co-operation from the police." Ridley later claimed that she only wanted Muslim leaders to stop co-operating, not the whole community; this is not supported by her comment about not asking directions from the police. The two men were subsequently released without charge and an official apology was later issued to the family by the Metropolitan Police.
After the Chechen leader Shamil Basayev (responsible for the terrorist attack on the Beslan school) was killed, Ridley wrote an article referring to Basayev by the Muslim honorific shaheed, meaning "martyr". She went on to refer to Basayev as leader of "an admirable struggle to bring independence to Chechnya".
Initially, Ridley strongly opposed the Western intervention in the 2011 Libyan Civil War, and spoke in a rally opposing it held in Central London where she likened asking for Western support to making a pact with the Devil. However she later travelled to rebel-held territory, where she became a wholehearted supporter of the Libyan rebels' cause and accepted that they had no choice but to ask for the Western powers' help.
In 2012 she expressed her strong support for the end of secret evidence used in the SIAC case against the Jordanian Islamist cleric, Abu Qatada, and her opposition to Home Secretary Theresa May's plans to deport him on the basis of the secret evidence from the UK.
Denial of entry
Because of her views, she was denied entry to India in 2010 to address the Muslim Women's Conference in Kerala. Later, in January 2013, she was scheduled to attend the Spring of Islam Conference organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind at Hyderabad. She was given all necessary clearances by the external affairs ministry, but was denied a visa at the last minute because of the tense situation in Hyderabad following the arrest of controversial local legislator Akbaruddin Owaisi a few days before the event was scheduled to take place. However Ridley, through video conference, addressed three sessions of girls, women and journalists during the conference.
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- In the Hands of the Taliban by Yvonne Ridley (2001). ISBN 1861054955.
- Ticket to Paradise by Yvonne Ridley (2003). ISBN 1893302776
- Yvonne Ridley video interview on Turntoislam.com