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Amnesty International Asks Afghan Government to Uphold Rule of Law

As Journalists Fear for Their Lives, Human Rights Group Calls for Freedom of Expression in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Days before the Afghan presidential
elections, journalists from 13 provinces in Afghanistan have told Amnesty
International that they have recently been threatened by Afghan government
officials because of their critical reporting.

At the same time, the Taliban 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. Taliban 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 journalist 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 killed."

"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 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 Taliban, but more importantly, from the government
itself," said 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 ensuring
that no government agencies, the NDS in particular, violate freedom of
expression; and to introduce legislation facilitating public access to
information from governmental institutions.

To view the full ten point action plan click

Freedom of expression, which flourished after
the fall of the Taliban 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, Taliban 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 June 7, 2008, Abdul Samad
Rohani, an Afghan journalist working for the BBC in Helmand province, was
abducted, then 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 Taliban beheaded journalist
Ajmal Naqshbandi and killed his driver Sayed Agha in Helmand province.


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