Sunday, January 20, 2008

Media ignore repression of Afghan journalists

We can be quite confident that major media outlets are aware of recent statements of Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists expressing concern over actions of the Afghan government. Thus it would seem that this news was simply suppressed.

Voices from the mainstream have criticized the Karzai government's heavy-handed approach to press freedom for some time now. Yet the Canadian media is uninterested in shedding light on the repressive side of Karzai's government. And remember, this is an Afghan government with Canadian advisers in various ministries - most of whom are Canadian military. (These role of these advisers - the SAT - has recently been called into question as officials contemplate ending their mission.)

At issue is the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student in Mazar-e-Sharif in the North of Afghanistan about to be tried for blasphemy by a sharia court. His brother Ibrahimi happens to be a reporter with IWPR, known for his criticism of the government. Ibrahim and many of his colleagues believe that Kambakhsh has been targeted because of his brother.


"The calls for the death penalty for Kambakhsh highlight the growing influence of fundamentalist groups on intellectual debate," the organisation said. "The blasphemy charges are an ill-disguised attempt to hide the desire of the local authorities to restrict press freedom." ...

Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about Ghows Zalmay, a former journalist and attorney-general’s spokesman, who is being held for publishing a translation of the Koran into Dari. He was arrested in early November after conservative religious leaders said the translation was "un-Islamic" and misinterpreted verses about adultery and begging. Parliamentarians have even accused him of being "worse than Salman Rushdie."(link)

Dear President Karzai:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about your government’s failure to push through proposed media reforms at a time when the Afghan press is growing increasingly restricted. As a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization of journalists committed to supporting our colleagues around the world, CPJ is troubled by our findings on Afghanistan, which suggest that media policy is increasingly aimed at hampering journalists. ...

* The Council of Religious Scholars has recommended the death penalty for a young reporter and student charged with blasphemy in Mazar-i-Sharif ...

* On January 4, you met with influential clerics who called popular music shows and Indian soap operas broadcast by Tolo TV un-Islamic, according to Agence France-Presse. Shortly after that meeting a communication from Minister Abdul Khuram to private TV channels banned programs contrary to Afghanistan’s culture and laws on threat of referral to the attorney general for prosecution. Saad Mohseni, who runs Tolo and other networks, provided CPJ with a copy of the letter last week. Mohseni told us that NDS representatives reiterated the minister’s ban in a meeting with private TV station heads on January 9.

* In 2002, you pledged to turn state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) into a public service broadcaster. Yet your latest recommendations on the proposed media law vetoed the draft proposals to establish an independent commission, including legislative and judicial representatives, to govern RTA on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, local news reports say. RTA’s director of planning and foreign relations, Abdul Rahman Panjshiri, resigned in September 2007, directly citing Minister Khuram’s efforts to curb the station’s independence as his reason. “During my 29 years of service with RTA I have not seen such an attempt to suppress freedom,” he said in comments published on the Web site of Radio Netherlands. (link)
Just how unreported are these cases in Canada? The country's major daily newspapers have NEVER mentioned Mr. Kambakhsh (arrested in October) nor Ghows Zalmay's arrest in November for his unauthorized Koran translation. (Source: Proquest full-text search.) Nor has our national media breathed a word about Minister Khuran's recent declaration restricting Afghan television. A quick google search of blogs finds no Canadian bloggers (besides yours truly) have written about Zalmay, while it seems that just three Canadian blogs have carried the story of Kambakhsh. (1, 2, 3) It is perhaps too much to expect some consistency from those rabid bloggers who berate press policies of official enemies like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

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