Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who had been in captivity for over eight months in Afghanistan, on Thursday said he was released with a warning that he would be killed if he returned to the trouble-torn country.
“At the time of my release, I was told that I will be shot if I chose to come back to Afghanistan, though they are releasing me this time round,” Kumar said, a day after he arrived in the city.
Recounting his harrowing experience, Kumar, 47, said during the captivity his hands and legs were chained even as the location where he was kept confined was changed some times.
“Most of the time my hands and legs were chained... though there was no threat to my life,” the priest, hailing from Devakottai in Tamil Nadu, said.
He further told the press that during the captivity he was allowed to go to toilet only once in 12 hours and that an armed guard would be present around him even when he answered nature’s call.
“So I had to drink less water to control (urine) output and things like this affected me and I had to battle health issues,” he said.
Kumar was working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, an educational charity, as its Afghanistan director and had been in the country for over three years. He had earlier worked for the JRS, serving Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.
Kumar had accompanied teachers on a visit to a JRS-supported school for returnee refugees in Sohadat village, 25-km from the city of Herat on June 2 last year when he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from the school.
He was released following efforts by the National Democratic Alliance government. The announcement of his release was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 22.
“There were no issues for three years and I was familiar with the terrain as well,” Kumar said.
“I was always told by my abductors that I would be freed soon,” he said adding he had no clear idea about the identity of his kidnappers though it was claimed they were Taliban.
The priest said he did not know the local Pashto language and communicated with his abductors in sign language.
To repeated questions on the demands of abductors and how his release was secured, Kumar said he had “no idea” and said, “I don’t know the purpose for which I was abducted and how I was released.”
Kumar thanked Modi, embassy officials in Afghanistan and the Tamil Nadu government for securing his release. Praising the people of Afghanistan for their hospitality, he, however, said it was still a “problematic” country “without peace”.