August, 12 2009, 12:26pm EDT
Days before the Afghan presidential
elections, journalists from thirteen provinces in Afghanistan have told
Amnesty International that they had recently been threatened by Afghan
government officials because of their critical reporting.
At the same time, the Taleban and other anti-government groups have
also stepped up attacks against journalists and blocked nearly all
reporting from areas under their control.
"Afghans have made government corruption and failure to implement
the rule of law as key aspects of the current election campaign, but
some government officials want to respond to criticism by silencing the
journalists who monitor government conduct and provide vital
information to the voting public," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty
International's Asia-Pacific director.
In some cases, government officials have initiated criminal
proceedings against journalists for peacefully exercising their freedom
of expression and information. In other cases, government forces have
even directly attacked journalists. For instance, in July 2009, five
journalists were beaten by police officers in Herat for reporting on a
public demonstration and police corruption.
One reporter from Ghazni, who did not want to be identified for fear
of reprisals, told Amnesty International, "People working on the
Karzai election campaign are calling me and other journalists and
threatening us if we report on corruption or anything bad that Karzai's
government is doing. Taleban and other groups contact me and threaten
me, telling me I must stop writing any positive news stories about the
elections because they don't want people to support the elections. I am
caught between these two sides."
Another journalists from southern Afghanistan who also didn't want
to be named added "If government officials are threatening me, then who
do I complain to? I have to self-censor because otherwise I will be
"Afghan journalists have demonstrated that they are willing to face
tremendous challenges in order to give a voice to the Afghan people,
but instead of being supported by the government, they are facing
increasing pressure from officials," said Sam Zarifi.
There has been little official effort to investigate murders and
physical attacks on journalists. Government institutions - in
particular the National Directorate of Security, have attempted to
reduce the media's independence.
"President Karzai, and all the presidential candidates, should
immediately and publicly commit to defending Afghan journalists, both
from the Taleban, but more importantly, from the government itself,"
said Sam Zarifi. "It's vital that the Afghan government upholds the
rule of law and its commitment to media freedom by urgently
investigating these cases."
Amnesty International has produced a ten-point action plan calling
on the government of Afghanistan to fulfill its international human
rights obligations, including upholding the right to freedom of
expression and media expression. Amnesty International said that at a
time when Afghans are facing increasing insecurity, prioritizing human
rights and the rule of law can serve to strengthen stability and
security throughout the country. Specifically, Amnesty International
called on the Afghan government to:
* Fully and effectively investigate and prosecute all those responsible
for attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and others
exercising their right to freedom of expression;
* Commit to ensure that no government agencies, and in particular the NDS, violate freedom of expression;
* Introduce legislation facilitating public access to information from governmental institutions.
To view the full ten point action plan click here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA11/010/2009
Freedom of expression, which flourished after the fall of the Taleban
in 2001, has eroded as a result of increasing threats and attacks by
the government and anti-government forces.
The government has improperly prosecuted several journalists on
charges of violating religious sensibilities under pressure from the
unofficial but highly influential Ulema Council (council of religious
scholars). Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, Ahmad Ghous Zalmai a journalist and
former spokesman for the Attorney General and Mullah Qari Mushtaq were
each sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for publishing a Dari
translation of the Quran without the Arabic text.
Since 2007, Taleban and other anti-government groups have increased
attacks against Afghan journalists. The most recent victim was Jawed
Ahmad, an Afghan journalist who was gunned down in the southern city of
Kandahar in March 2009. On 7 June 2008 Abdul Samad Rohani, an Afghan
journalist working for the BBC in Helmand province, was abducted and
shot dead the next day, possibly as a result of his investigation of
the narcotics trade. In May 2008, Afghan television journalist Nilofar
Habibi was stabbed at the doorstep of her home in Herat, apparently for
not wearing a burqa. In June 2007, unknown gunmen shot and killed Zakia
Zami, director of the private radio station Radio Peace in Parwan
province. She had been critical of local warlords, who had warned her
to close the station. In March 2007, the Taleban beheaded journalist
Ajmal Naqshbandi and killed his driver Sayed Agha in Helmand province.