|Birth Date:||23 April 1958|
|Birth Place:||Stanley, County Durham, England|
|Occupation:||Journalist and activist|
Yvonne Ridley (born 23 April 1958, Stanley, County Durham, England) 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.
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. 
She would at least be prosecuted for entering the country illegally, reported the Afghan Islamic Press agency, quoting the Taliban's deputy foreign minister, Mullah Abdur Rahman Zahid.
Qudratullah Jamal, the Taliban's information minister, expressed the suspicion that Ridley was possibly a member of a military "special forces" unit like the British SAS.    It was also suggested that she and other westerners could be kept by the Taliban as hostages.
The British high commissioner to Pakistan, Hilary Synnott, met the Taliban-ambassador in Islamabad, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef and opened negotiations intended at a quick release of Ridley.   While the press in Britain speculated about the reason of her arrest and the seriousness of the suspicion,   she was kept in solitary confinement for seven days and then moved to a prison in Kabul. In the prison in Kabul she met the Christian missionary Heather Mercer, who was also kept by the Taliban and was unaware of the latest developments
The same week British bombings on Afghan targets as part of the Operation Enduring Freedom began, while the whereabouts of Ridley were unknown to the British authorities and it was feared that these bombings would jeopardise her release.   Then her release, ordered on 'humanitarian grounds' by Taliban-leader Mullah Mohamed Omar, was reported by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.    After her release on 9 October 2001, when her Taliban captors escorted her from the Kabul prison to a Pakistan border post at the foot of the Khyber Pass, near Peshawar, she revealed that she had kept a concealed diary inside a box for a toothpaste tube and in the inside of a soap wrapper, and had been on hunger strike throughout her captivity, but denied to have been physically hurt in any way.     
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.
The Qur'an, she says describing the holy book of Islam, is a "magna carta for women". She converted to Islam in the summer of 2003, stating that 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.
In December 2001 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. 
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. 
Ridley was placed at the top of the Respect coalition's party list at the 2004 European Elections for the North East England region but was not elected. She stood as the Respect candidate at the Leicester South by-election in 2004.  She came in fourth, with 12.7% of the vote. However, when she stood again in the May 2005 general election, her share of the vote dropped to 6.4%. In the local government elections in 2006 she stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Westminster Council.
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.
Since first August 2008, Yvonne Ridley has joined the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus as it heads for Gaza to challenge the Israeli siege. Press TV is following the progress of the movement and Yvonne Ridley, who will be on board with Indy film-maker Haq Nawaz, and is publishing her blogs to Press TV's website. The SS Free Gaza and the SS Free Liberty both arrived without incident in Gaza on 23 August. During their brief stay Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh gave a rare interview to Yvonne Ridley which was later broadcast on Press TV. As the free Gaza Movement activists departed four days later Gaza PM Haniyeh issued genuine Palestinian passports with diplomatic status to the majority describing them as Ambassadors for Palestine. The film To Gaza with Love by Nawaz and Ridley has been shown in several film festivals and was nominated for an award at a London film festival in 2009.
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.
In March 2009 Ridley and George Galloway, then a RESPECT MP, founded the organisation Viva Palestina and took a convoy of more than 100 vehicles bearing aid across North Africa to Gaza via the Rafah border. Again collaborating with film-maker Ghani, Ridley made a documentary about the 25-day journey called Three Uncles go to Gaza. The film was highly acclaimed by critics at the Istanbul Human Rights film festival in December 2009.
In January 2011 Ridley made a 40 minute exclusive interview with Mona Thwany, widow of the 2010 Stockholm suicide bomber. Swedish journalists were critical of the interview, saying she asked very few critical questions.
Her vocal support for causes involving Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Xinjiang and Uzbekistan have made her a popular speaker in anti-war circles. 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 if she didn't see 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. Since then Ridley has said that the Danish record and translation of her speech was incorrect. She returned to Copenhagen in May 2006 to take part in a 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." Along with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and several other speakers including scholars and politicians, the Copenhagen Declaration was formed and signed.
Critics have accused her of defending the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his campaign of violence in Iraq and Jordan, describing the victims of the 9 November 2005 Amman bombings in Jordan, which saw 60 persons killed and 115 injured, as Iraqi collaborators, Saudi, Indonesian and Chinese intelligence officers and the upper echelons of society. The outpouring of public outrage manifested in spontaneous demonstration she described as staged and the work of "Jordanian troops out of uniform" and "government lackeys" together with "Christian and Muslim Bedouins" who had all been commandeered or paid to demonstrate by the Jordanian government and the CIA. Al-Zarqawi was denounced by his family after the bombings, a move that Ridley thought "cowardly." She said of al-Zarqawi himself that she would "rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or sell-out for a father, son or grandfather" – a reference to the Jordanian royal family.
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," attacking Sami Yusuf 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."   But at the time George Galloway, leader of the RESPECT Coalition to which Ridley belongs also distanced himself from her comments, saying "Our policy is not that we should withdraw co-operation 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 Force.
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" (http://www.redress.cc/global/yridley20110430) which she wrote in Benghazi on 30 April 2011.In February 2012 she expressed her strong support for the controversial Jordanian cleric, Abu Qatada, and her opposition to Theresa May's plans to deport him from the UK. http://themuslim.ca/2012/02/17/british-justice-in-dock-over-abu-qatada/