Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka recalls Iraq kidnap ordeal

Zpravodaje Českého rozhlasu Víta Pohanku uvítala na letišti v pražské Ruzyni jeho maminka, foto: ČTK

There were scenes of great joy at Prague airport early on Sunday morning when three Czech journalists kidnapped last week in Iraq were reunited with their families. The three - Czech Radio's Vit Pohanka, and Michal Kubal and Petr Klima of Czech Television - had been abducted by a group of Iraqi insurgents the previous Sunday, before being released on Friday after intense diplomatic negotiations. The news that they had been freed was greeted with great relief in the Czech Republic: many had feared the worst for the three journalists.

Vit Pohanka at Prague airport with his mother, photo: CTK
Not long after their joyful return home on Sunday, David Vaughan spoke to Vit Pohanka, who described how they had been abducted on their way from Baghdad to the Jordanian capital, Amman.

"The driver on the way - and it hasn't been explained why - decided to take a short cut, and wanted to go not maybe directly to Falluja, but very close to Falluja, and we were stopped at a checkpoint after several kilometres and were dragged out of the car.

"This would be a long, long story, but to cut it short, the worst things were happening the first morning when we had our hands tied behind our backs, we were blindfolded, we were driven around, we were interrogated, we were blindfolded again, we were told that we were going to be released but we were not released.

"My worst memory is of being driven around blindfolded, because those were the moments when I was really saying goodbye to my life and all the people that I had known."

Was this the first time that you had been directly confronted with the possibility of death?

Vit Pohanka
"To a certain extent, yes, definitely. This was the first time that I was confronted with the reality was a probability that I wasn't going to survive."

The last time we spoke you were in my office with you son on your knee. I kept thinking about that last week when we didn't know where you were. It must have been dreadful not to have your family around, and not to know whether you'd see them ever again.

"Yeah, that was the thing that I'd say was most often on my mind. What was very strong was a feeling of guilt that I had for letting my family undergo such a situation, and undergo such stress.

"The next feeling was that if I wasn't going to come out of that alive my son would have to grow up fatherless, which wasn't very nice. But at the same time, to be quite frank, it gave me some strength thinking about them, and it gave me the will not to fall into depression, to try to survive in the very basic sense of that word."

As we're talking you've been home for less than 24 hours - how do you feel at this stage, when you look out at Prague?

"There are moments when I feel in a kind of surreal situation, in a situation which doesn't have anything to do with reality. Some 48 hours ago I was still kept by the Iraqis, and now all of a sudden I'm in's difficult to describe all the feelings that are going through my head.

"But it's getting better, I would say, gradually. The good thing is that immediately at the airport there was my wife, there was my mother. I was able to go home, I was able to do some shopping. So things are getting OK now, I would say.