COMMENT:

The lengthy string of "no comments" from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern left no doubt at all just how strong her displeasure was with the decision of the International Red Cross to reveal the identity of its nurse Louisa Akavi, an Islamic State hostage for almost six years.

All Ardern would say on the case was that the Government disagreed with the decision by the ICRC to speak to the New York Times and call for more information on Akavi's whereabouts.

Beyond that, Ardern delivered 18 "not commenting" statements when asked about each and any aspect of the case, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

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That decision by the ICRC effectively ended an agreement from media world-wide not to publish details about Akavi, including her name and her nationality as a New Zealander.

The initial agreement by media not to run it was made on the grounds that mentioning Avaki could put her life in danger.

The conclusion was reached partly on the basis of a communication from Islamic State that if Avaki appeared in the media, she would be killed.

Some have questioned whether the media blackout was needed or was a factor in keeping Akavi alive. The answer to that may never be known. Her medical skills were also likely to have contributed to saving her life for so long.

But the question is moot in such circumstances.

Once the threat was made, it would be reckless in the extreme to ignore it.

With other hostages being executed, nobody could simply dismiss Isis threats as a bluff.

Until this week, the Government and the ICRC had stood together on this.

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In fact, Ardern's comment appeared to be a surprise to the ICRC representative Dominik Stillhart, who said he believed the New Zealand Government agreed with the decision, based on talks with its representatives.

He went so far as to say they would not have taken that step without the agreement of the Government.

But New Zealand media briefed in advance of the New York Times story had been told the Government did not agree, but had no control over the ICRC.

The ICRC's position was that speaking publicly could result in more information coming to hand, or give Akavi a prompt to come forward if she was in one of the camps of displaced people.

While the ICRC deemed the risk was worth taking to try to secure more information, the Government clearly believes otherwise.

Its fear is that if she is still being held by the Isis leadership somewhere, the publicity will only increase the danger to her because her presence now makes those she is with more of a target.

No government wants to be held to be responsible for such an outcome, so Ardern is trying to starve the issue of oxygen - and distance herself from the release of information.

Both groups have expended significant effort in looking for Akavi and trying to extract her without success.

The ICRC is "neutral" and so can use different avenues to those open to governments.

But the Government has the resources of intelligence gathering of its friends and allies. Its ongoing concerns about the identification of Akavi should not be easily dismissed.

It was not a complete blackout on information from the Government because nor does it want to stand accused of not doing enough to search for Akavi.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters did set out some of the steps taken to secure her freedom. He also made it clear that they were still at work.

Another issue Ardern would not comment on was whether the danger could be exacerbated by the timing of the release of Akavi's identity so soon after the Christchurch mosque attacks. Islamic State were one of those groups which called for retribution in the wake of those attacks.

Ardern would not comment when asked if she thought the ICRC was being reckless. She did not need to. She made that clear without saying a word.