THE WOMAN YVONNE RIDLEY

Yvonne Ridley was born on 23rd April, 1958, in Stanley, County Durham, England. She is a British journalist, war correspondent and Respect Party activist best known for her capture by the Taliban and subsequent conversion to Islam after release, her outspoken opposition to Zionism, and her criticism of Western media portrayals of the War on Terror. Ridley currently works for Press TV, the Iranian-funded English language news channel. As a young girl, she already had an ambition for professional reporting. Stimulated at 14 by the publication of a letter she sent to the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle, she was determined to become a journalist. At 16, she wrote to every newspaper group in the UK and subsequently she attended a journalism course at the London College of Printing. Since then she has written for The Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday, The Observer, The Mirror and the News Of The World and she was deputy editor of Wales on Sunday. She was chief reporter when the Sunday Express, sent her to Afghanistan after 9/11. She has also worked as a broadcaster, producer and presenter on programmes for BBC TV and radio, CNN, ITN and Carlton TV travelling to Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and the West Bank. A founder member of Women in Journalism, she was also a promoter of women's rights, although after she converted to Islam, she publicly criticised some aspects of the 'sisterhood' promoted by Western feminism. She is also a founder member of the Stop The War Coalition and the RESPECT political party. In her spare time Ridley travels throughout the UK and across the globe promoting peace and the anti-war message. 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. Ridley is a founder member of the Friends of Islam, an All Party Parliamentary Group and Women in Journalism. In addition she is a member of the National Union of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, a founder of Women in Journalism, and is also a member of the Society of Authors. She has written two books called "In The Hands of the Taliban"and "Ticket to Paradise" and is currently writing and researching for two other titles including a biography of Osama bin Laden. Ridley is a patron of the UK-based pressure groups Cageprisoners and Hhugs. She also devotes much of her time to humanitarian work and charities. Ridley has married twice. Her first husband was Daoud Zaaroura, a former Palestine Liberation Organization officer. Zaaroura was a PLO colonel when Ridley met him in Cyprus, where she was working on an assignment for the Newcastle-based Sunday Sun. They had one daughter called Daisy who was born in 1992. Her second husband was a detective with Northumbria Police. 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. Yvonne Ridley came to prominence on 28 September 2001, when she was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan whilst working for the Sunday Express. Repeatedly refused an entrance visa, she decided to follow the example of BBC reporter John Simpson, who had crossed the border anonymously in a burqa. Colleagues said Ridley responded to text messages from friends until 26 September 2001, after having told them she would attempt to cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan. It became clear that she had been discovered without passport or visa, and was held by the authorities after being arrested with her guides, the Afghan refugee Nagibullah Muhmand and Pakistani Jan Ali, in a village in the Dour Daba district near the eastern city of Jalalabad in Nangahar, close to the border with Pakistan. She was dressed like an Afghan, but it is believed she was caught after attempting to take photographs, an illegal activity under the Taliban. She was spotted two days later, on 28 September, after slipping across the border by local people who pointed her out to security forces, who took her to Jalalabad for further investigation on possible espionage charges that carried the death penalty. Shortly before, the Taliban had asked all foreigners to leave the country and had said they would not issue visas to journalists. They threatened that anyone found using a satellite phone would be executed. After the release of Ridley, her guides Jan Ali and Nagibullah Muhmand, as well as Basmena, the five-year-old daughter of the latter, were kept by the Taliban in a prison in Kabul, according to Reporters sans Frontières. According her own account after her release, 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 Qur'an after her release. In freedom, she kept this promise, as she said partly to find out why the Taliban treated women as they do. She said it changed her life. The Qur'an, she says describing the holy book of Islam, is a "magna carta for women". Yvonne took on the Muslim faith in August 2003. As a result she's given up drinking, tries to pray five times a day and visits a mosque every Friday, her new faith has helped put behind her broken marriages and a reputation as the "Patsy Stone of Fleet Street." When comparing her treatment to female prisoners' held in American custody, such as Aafia Siddiqui, she said that in Taliban's custody she was given her full privacy as a woman, and was handed the key to the door of her cell to lock from the inside. In 2004, she described her journey of faith for the BBC's religion site (see A Muslim in the Family), as well as in other publications and on other occasions in which she emerged as a "fierce critic of the West". Ridley's memoir detailing the 11 days she was held captive, In the Hands of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story. Ticket to Paradise (Dandelion Books, LLC 2003), a novel based on the backdrop of 9/11, was written before she converted to Islam; friends say it was never published in the UK because she was too embarrassed by its risque content. She announced a return to Afghanistan, which she did with her daughter Daisy, who also had a great deal of media attention during the captivity of her mother. 2003 saw Yvonne Ridley employed by the Qatar-based media organisation Al Jazeera, where, as a senior editor, she helped launch the English language version of their website. On 12 November of that year she was fired because Al Jazeera found her "overly-vocal and argumentative style" was incompatible with the station’s programme. After her departure from Qatar, she published an article about her experiences there. Her dismissal was also attributed to her campaigning for journalists' rights on the al-Jazeera English channel and website. She won her case for unfair dismissal against the organisation, but was asked to return in May 2006 when it lodged an appeal against the Qatari court decision. Ridley won the appeal and the judge ordered her original award be doubled. However Al Jazeera once again lodged an appeal with the case going to the Supreme Court for a final hearing. She won that case through lawyers Gebran Majdalany in December 2007 and was awarded 100,000 Qatari riyals, which equates to around £13,885, damages. She began presenting The Agenda With Yvonne Ridley, the Islam Channel's politics and current affairs show, in October 2005. However, the show and Ridley were axed from the channel after she refused to shake the hand of a Saudi prince at a post-Hajj feast. The channel blamed Ofcom for exerting pressure, which that organisation denies. According to several published reports, Saudi pressure was brought to bear upon the channel head over the hand-shaking incident. The Islam Channel maintains that Ridley "has not been sacked and is still working for us." However in April 2008 Ridley won her case for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the Islam Channel as well as the channel. The full 30-page report was published on the website Harrys Place. Ridley now works as a freelance journalist/presenter for Press TV, the Iranian English language 24-hour news channel, hosting many talk shows among them The Agenda being the major one. She also writes a column for the New York-based Daily Muslims and other publications. In May 2008, in an assignment by Press TV, she and the film-maker David Miller shot a documentary based on Guantanamo Bay after being given unprecedented access to the now defunct Camp X-Ray and the operational Camp Delta, by the US military which operates the naval base in Cuba where hundreds of men, defined as enemy combatants, have been detained since January 2002. Their film Guantanamo: Inside the Wire was nominated in the 2009 Roma TV Film Festival in Italy. In November 2008 she and the young award-winning film maker and journalist Hassan al Banna Ghani headed for Afghanistan to produce a documentary about female prisoners being held by the US. In Search of Prisoner 650 is expected to be broadcast by Press TV in the spring of 2009. During the making of the film the two came under fire amid a clash between the Taliban and Afghan police on the road to Ghazni. The drama was filmed and is expected to be used in their film. To start with, Ridley strongly opposed the Western intervention in the 2011 Libyan civil war, and spoke in a rally opposing it held in Central London. However, after talking with Libyan friends who asked her to "come and see for herself", she travelled to rebel-held Benghazi where she became a wholehearted supporter of the Libyan rebels' cause and accepted that they had no choice by to ask for the Western powers' help. This was expressed in an article entitled "I was wrong to oppose military intervention in Libya – wrong, wrong, wrong" which she wrote in Benghazi on 30 April 2011. For her brevity, for treading swhere even the strongest men fear to tread, for being inquisitive, open minded and embracing of Islam and the Quran. Yvonne Ridley is a 1one4 icon.

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