A seriously ill British charity worker held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for almost eight months has described his conditions in a secret prison as ‘horrendous’ and begged his wife to do whatever she can to bring him home.
The Mail on Sunday can today reveal that Kevin Cornwell’s release was twice ordered by the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Arkhundzada, in mid-July and again in early August, on compassionate grounds due to severe kidney problems.
But his family’s joy at the news he might soon be home turned to heartbreak when, on both occasions, the supreme leader went back on his word, with no explanation for 53-year-old Kevin or his distraught relatives.
Last night, Mr Cornwell’s wife, Kelly, said he fears he could die in custody if he is not released soon. He has not had access to proper medicine or adequate medical care throughout his captivity. She said that during their last phone call, on Thursday morning, he was ‘very, very poorly’ and asked her to get him home safely as soon as possible.
‘He told me “the conditions that we are living in are horrendous” and said ‘Kelly, you do what you need to do’,’ she said.
Kelly Cornwell pictured with her husband Kevin before the Taliban detained him. She now fears her husband could die after being locked away in a secret Afghan jail for eight months
‘Even when he does come home, he will probably need dialysis treatment for the rest of his life.
‘He has lost about 15 kg in weight, he can’t eat half the food that they are providing because it triggers his kidney problems, so there is no proper nutrition, he has anaemia, he is tired all the time.
‘He has stones in both kidneys, so if he loses function in one kidney the other will not hold up. He can’t recover, so he keeps getting more serious.’
Mr Cornwell, a medic with a UN-backed charity, was taken prisoner by the Taliban’s secret police, along with another Briton who was managing the guesthouse where he lived on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul. They were accused of having an illegal firearm. The gun and its licence issued by the Taliban were kept in a safe in Mr Cornwell’s room at Darya Village Hotel. No criminal charges have been brought and the men have not faced trial.
A so-called ‘danger tourist’ Miles Routledge, 23, from Birmingham, has also been held for months after he travelled to Afghanistan to film videos shooting guns with Taliban militants for his popular YouTube channel. At least one other British man, and dozens of other Westerners, including Americans, Australians, Canadians and French, are also believed to be in Taliban custody.
Mrs Cornwell has spoken to her husband seven times since he was arrested in short phone calls Kevin’s prison guards have allowed him to make home. It was during one call that former soldier Mr Cornwell revealed he had undergone two operations to remove kidney stones in an Afghan hospital.
Mrs Cornwell said the Taliban had lied about why Kevin was detained and when he would be released.
She said: ‘If they can’t send him out when he is in critical condition, when will they? They could have done it on medical grounds, they’ve had so many opportunities.’
Kevin Cornwell was detained along with an unnamed British hotel manager following a raid at Afghanistan’s Darya Village Hotel on January 11
The couple have seven children and 17 grandchildren between them. Kelly said she wasn’t aware that Kevin had been physically tortured in captivity, but said: ‘There is a level of torture involved in depriving him of his freedom, of contact with his wife and family. What we are going through every day is a form of torture.’
Scott Richards, a negotiator with the Presidium Network charity which is assisting Mr Cornwell and his family, said Kevin had developed an infection on July 26 and his condition rapidly deteriorated. The Taliban leadership told him and Mrs Cornwell in mid-July and again in early August that her husband would be released, and that the orders had come directly from the Afghan supreme leader. But the release orders were pulled at the last minute, causing further pain for his devastated family.
Mrs Cornwell said: ‘One of the great tragedies of this is Kevin wanted to be in Afghanistan to help the country’s most vulnerable, and in doing so has risked his life, not from being in the field, but from being held hostage. Kevin is a UN-badged worker, and one of, if not the first to be held by a government like this, and that has no doubt impacted the ability of other aid agencies to operate in Afghanistan.’
The UK Foreign Office suspended diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and closed the Embassy in Kabul after the Taliban seized back power two years ago, following the withdrawal of US troops by President Joe Biden.
An FCDO spokesperson said: ‘We continue to raise the cases of British nationals detained in Afghanistan with the Taliban and are supporting families.’