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Afghanistan: 20 journalists killed in the past year

Tolo News reporters work in the newsroom at Tolo TV station in Kabul, Afghanistan, 11 September 2018
Tolo News reporters work in the newsroom at Tolo TV station in Kabul, Afghanistan, 11 September 2018

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on afjc.af on 27 March 2019.

Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) recorded a total of 92 cases of violence, including 20 cases involving fatalities, against journalists and media workers in the 1397 Solar Year (21 March 2018-20 March 2019), a deadly year for Afghan media.

Most of the cases resulting in fatalities were targeted killings and assassinations, raising deep concerns about the safety and protection of journalists who are increasingly vulnerable to reprisals from insurgents and other armed groups.

The cases of violence documented by the AFJC include murders, injuries, physical and verbal harassment, short-term detentions, torture and various threats against journalists. Most cases of violence are attributed to the Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) groups. Government officials and security forces were also among the perpetrators of media violations.

Speaking at a ceremony making the National Journalist's Day (18 March), AFJC Executive Director Ahmad Quraishi said that 20 cases of killings occurred mostly in targeted attacks and explosions. 18 journalists were injured and 14 received death threats.

He further noted that there were 12 cases of physical harassment and 10 cases of insults. Meanwhile, 64 cases of limits on access to information were recorded by the organization over the past 12 months.

According to Quraishi, 13 out of the 20 fatal cases involving journalists have been claimed by Daesh (IS), five by unknown armed men, and two by the Taliban. In addition, for the 18 incidents involving injuries, Daesh is responsible for 11 and the remaining were carried out by unknown armed men.

"These attacks demonstrate a clear violation to journalists' lives and undermine the public's right to know and create an environment of self-censorship, especially in the insecure southern and eastern provinces," the AFJC Executive Director added.

AFJC's findings show that out of 18 incidents of attacks on journalists and media outlets, 13 were carried out by unknown armed men, four by the Taliban and two by the Daesh (IS). It also reveals that government employees, mostly the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the main intelligence body, were involved in all 12 incidents of beatings and the abuse of journalists during the last 12mmonths.


Problems and Challenges

In addition to the shrinking number of outlets mostly due to the financial challenges and terrorist attacks, the unknown status of the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, a group denying press freedom during their five-year ruling, remains a major concern for the future status of the nascent free Afghan media. Meanwhile, the non-existence of job security and health insurance are among the serious problems that were faced by Afghan journalists during the last year.

Media workers are being employed without work security and health insurance. Owners of media outlets sometimes interfere in the professional activities of reporters, which is against the law and they also irresponsibly fire the reporters whenever they want.

Despite the quantitative growth of media organizations in recent years, journalists and media personnel in Afghanistan, specifically in Afghan-owned media lack job security. Few media organizations can be found to have signed standardized contracts and to have paid a suitable salary to its employees.

The AFJC findings indicate that a number of media managers pressured their journalists to work in a way that is against journalistic standards and is unprofessional. If the journalists resist against such biased demands by their managers, they would lose their jobs and in light of such severe rules, they cannot seek another job for a long time.

Most national media still do not provide medical insurance. When they face medical problems, some media employees do not even have the money for their treatment.

Event though Afghanistan is ranked first in the world on the right to information by the Centre for Law and Democracy and Human Rights index 2018, limits on access to information, in particular in the provinces, remains a major challenge for Afghan journalists. 64 cases of limitations on access to information by the local authorities were reported to AFJC. Article 50 of the Constitution states that the citizens of Afghanistan shall have the right to access information from state departments in accordance with the provisions of the law. This right shall have no limit except when harming the rights of others as well as public security.

According to article 34 of the Constitution, freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations, as well as other means in accordance with provisions of the Constitution.

Every Afghan shall have the right, according to the provisions of the law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities. Directives related to the press, radio, and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by law.

Meanwhile, most media outlets in Afghanistan have been reliant on foreign aid, which were facing financial challenges during the last 12 months. Since the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 and then a shortage of international assistance and advertisement due to the intensifying of the war and the shrinking of business opportunities, dozens of media in the province were closed or forced to reduce their staff.

While a culture of impunity continued to reign in the 1397 solar year (2018), most cases had not been investigated seriously. AFJC's findings show that in more than 95% of cases, the perpetrators have gone free and justice is not observed.


Achievements and Progress

The leaders of the National Unity Government have repeatedly announced the government commitment to promote and empower press freedom and freedom of speech. Part of the political wills, the joint government and media committee continued its regular monthly meeting during the last 12 months to review cases of violence, threat and harassment occurred against journalists on monthly bases. The committee- a body working to combat impunity- chaired by Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, reported that tens of incidents have been referred to the Attorney General Office, except in some cases- mostly are awaiting for final court decision.

The launch of Media Support Fund by President Ashraf Ghani, an initiative aimed at helping bereaved families of journalists and reporters was a bold move to support journalists. President pledged AFN five millions from his private account and AFN 10 million (About $200,000) from government budget to it, which was warmly welcomed by the media community. President also instructed Minister of Finance to allocate a certain amount to the Fund annually based on available resources, which was a further step in this regard.

In October 2018, AFJC campaign efforts paid off and Afghanistan as member of United Nation Human Rights Council supported HRC resolution on the safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Also, Afghan Cabinet endorsed the AFJC proposal-supported by the Journalists federation and joint government and media committee- on recognition of Hoot 27th (March 18) as National Day of Journalist and ordered the relevant government institutions to insert it into the national days calendar.


Expectations from Government and International Community

Media organizations call on the Afghan Government and international donors to continue supporting the Media Fund and journalists in order to prevent the collapse of the independent free media in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Government should end the impunity for crimes committed against journalists by the creation of a special court and should ensure that justice is upheld in all cases.

Additionally, the Government should amend the Afghan Media Law and the Access to Information Act as proposed by the journalists. In addition to believing in freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the Afghan institutions should be committed to promoting and empowering these important values.

The achievements of the Afghan media made over the last 18 years (after the collapse of the Taliban regime) should be a priority in the peace talks with the Taliban. Peace will only be sustainable if it is built on the full respect for human rights, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

The international community is also expected to continue the flow of its aid to the free and emerging Afghan media as much as is needed. The international community should protect this important achievement against any harm.

AFJC

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