Friday, December 21, 2007

Press freedom trampled in Afghanistan

We have blogged before about Afghan government repression of journalists (here, for example). Now, the International Federation of Journalists has expressed its "concern" over a series of attacks on journalists in Afghanistan.

An IWPR article outlines the issue. Excerpts:

By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul and Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif

Afghanistan’s media have enjoyed remarkable degree of freedom over the past six years, making this one of the most visible achievements of the post-Taleban era,. But increasingly, as security deteriorates and the public mood sours, media outlets are coming under pressure from government and other powerful elites.

In addition to intimidation and assault, reporters face obstruction from officials who routinely deny them access to information, in clear violation of the law.

In recent incidents, five staffers from a popular Afghan daily were arrested and interrogated after the security services took exception to a letter to the editor they published. Armed men arrived at the office of another newspaper to arrest the editor after he published an analysis that some deemed insulting to a national hero. A journalist was beaten for trying to record the aftermath of a suicide bombing. ...

Fazel Rahman Oria, the editor of the Erada daily in Kabul, was forced into hiding after his newspaper published a five-part analysis that contained a reference to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the mujahedin leader widely hailed as an Afghan national hero. After the author, Azam Sistani, called Massoud a “warlord”, armed men arrived at the paper’s office to take Oria away.

“I hid,” said Oria. “Then I was summoned to the committee for cultural affairs in the lower house of parliament, but I didn’t go, since they have no standing in this case. The upper house also summoned me, and once again, I refused to go.

“I told all of them that the Commission on Media Violations should ask me to present explanations. I finally to publish a piece in defence of Massoud, prepared by the Massoud Foundation, and thus I resolved the matter,” he said.

According to Rahimullah Samander, director of the Independent Association of Journalists of Afghanistan, 2007 has been the worst year for reporters since the fall of the Taleban.

“Violations against journalists are increasing year by year,” said Samander, adding that the government and parliament have been particularly active in threatening and censoring journalists.

The number of violations has jumped from about 50 in 2006 to more than 70 so far this year, according to Samandar.

He said he personally was threatened with arrest by the NDS after investigating some of these cases.

Such incidents fly in the face of Afghan law. Article 34 of the constitution states, “Freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means.”
Apart from direct threats, beatings and other abuses leveled at journalists, many Afghan government officials break the law by refusing journalists guaranteed access:
Article 5 of Afghanistan’s Public Media Code, meanwhile, requires the government to provide information requested by journalists or other citizens unless it endangers national security, the country’s territorial integrity or the rights of others. ...

According to a survey carried out by the Independent Association of Journalists, 70 per cent of Afghan reporters return empty-handed when they go to government departments and ministries to collect information. ... (link)

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