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Amnesty International Calls on Afghanistan’s Presidential Candidates to Immediately Stop Intimidation of Journalists
WASHINGTON - October 7 - Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, must prevent supporters from intimidating journalists and monitors reporting on allegations of electoral fraud or irregularities during the recent presidential elections, Amnesty International said today.
Since the August 20 polls, Amnesty International has received evidence of at least 20 cases of intimidation, harassment, and violence, targeting Afghan journalists and media organizations who have reported on the election. The incidents came out of Kabul, Herat, Baghlan, Kapisa, Mazar-e- Sharif and Parwan provinces in particular.
The reports also include cases of intimidation and harassment of electoral workers and election monitors by Afghan government officials and affiliates of powerful candidates.
"As uncertainty around the outcome continues, harassment of journalists and monitors further erodes the credibility and legitimacy of the election and undermines the people's votes," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.
"Millions of Afghan women and men cast their votes on August 20, despite the serious insecurity and the threats by the Taliban and armed groups, choosing to express their will through ballots and hoping for a better future," Zarifi said.
Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists' Association, has informed Amnesty International that supporters of Karzai and Abdullah have accused these journalists of favoring rival candidates.
"All candidates, and in particular the top contenders, Karzai and Abdullah, have to show that they are committed to following Afghan law and basic human rights, such as the media's freedom to report," said Zarifi.
As reported by an Afghan activist who monitored the presidential elections and post-electoral processes, including ballot counting, a cabinet minister threatened him on several occasions over the phone after he spoke to local media about electoral fraud and voting irregularities by Karzai supporters.
"The minister threatened to kill me if I dare to criticize the president for fraud next time," the activist told Amnesty International.
Amnesty International calls on the Afghan government to carry out independent investigations on the cases of intimidation and harassment of the journalists, electoral workers, and observers, and to ensure that their freedom to express information is not violated.
"A key role for the media is to act as a watchdog on the government, particularly at a time when there is great uncertainty and allegations of fraud swirling about the presidential elections," Zarifi said. "Unless drastic steps are taken to overcome the problems seen in this election, the upcoming parliamentary elections are likely to be worse."
The preliminary results from Afghanistan's August 20 presidential elections show incumbent president Hamid Karzai winning 54.6 percent of the vote.
However, a series of allegations of voting fraud and ballot stuffing, primarily raised against President Karzai, have led to an electoral crisis across Afghanistan and criticism of other countries providing security and financial support for the election process.
The Election Complaints Commission has ordered 10% of the votes to be recounted.
There have also been cases of intimidation against journalists during the electoral campaign, as well as on the day of the election, by the presidential candidates.
There were 15 serious cases of intimidation across the provinces committed by the presidential candidates and the government officials, and 19 cases of serious violence against journalists were documented in the capital Kabul.