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Ghani’s Treatment of Journalists, Media Sparks Backlash

April 10, 2017

Kabul:A number of media supporting organizations on Monday said Ghani’s treatment of journalists was not standard and that it was suffocating freedom of press.

President Ashraf Ghani’s treatment of local journalists during Sunday’s press conference at the presidential palace has met with sharp criticism from the Afghan journalist community and press supporting institutions.

A number of media supporting organizations on Monday said Ghani’s treatment of journalists was not standard and that it was suffocating freedom of press in Afghanistan.

This comes a day after Ghani addressed a press conference in Kabul after a week-long tour to the Asia-Pacific region. At the press conference he briefed journalists on the outcome of his visit to Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.

However, Ghani took questions from journalists but refused to respond to a question by TOLOnews reporter Sharif Amiri about rule of law.
Ghani swiftly cut Amiri off when he asked the question and said that any questions had to be in the context of his trip.

But later, Ghani responded to several questions which were not within the framework of his trip.

One of Ghani’s spokesmen in a Facebook post wrote that even potato sellers are now acting as journalists.

Meanwhile the presidential palace in a statement has reaffirmed government’s commitment to protect the freedom of press in the country and highlights government’s achievements in the press sector.

“In the first step, the president approved the access to information bill, last year journalists’ safety procedure was also endorsed, the president also appointed a press freedom ambassador,” said Shahhussain Murtazawi, the acting chief of office of presidential spokesman.

In addition, some journalists have said that Ghani’s bodyguards also show negative behavior towards journalists.

“We wanted to come out of the ARG (presidential palace), one of the presidential guards came and told us that this time we will not tell you anything, you (journalists) do not know how to behave at ARG, you (journalists) have never seen the ARG and do not know how to behave,” said local journalist Baees Hayat.

“This action which is demonstrated by the president can become an unwritten law, unfortunately unwritten laws in Afghanistan have a lot of buyers,” said Ahmad Quraishi, chairman of the AFJC.

“The real issue is how you treat a journalist and your argument that your question will not be responded to this time,” said Fahim Dashti, chairman of the Afghanistan National Journalist Union.

According to media protection institutions, the situation of freedom of expression in Afghanistan has deteriorated following the establishment of the National Unity Government (NUG) under president Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) says that over 95 cases of violence against journalist were recorded in the country last year and another seven journalists were killed during the same period.

NAI (Organization Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan) has also declared last year as one of the deadliest years for journalists in the country.

“In Bamiyan province, eleven journalists were beaten by the president’s security guards, two or three similar cases happened in Kabul, at least 15 or 16 journalists were beaten directly or indirectly by the security personnel,” said Sediqullah Tawhidi, chairman of NAI.

In the latest report on the human rights situation, the U.S State Department also said that 430 cases of violence against journalists were recorded in Afghanistan during 2016 and none of them were investigated by the Afghan government.

According to the report, in many cases, journalists in Afghanistan were threatened, harassed and arrested by the political and security officials.

At the same time, there is a view that Ghani’s relations with the media has also soured.

After assuming office as president, Ghani failed to address at least ten press conferences where he was supposed to respond to questions by journalists.

Ghani also failed to take local journalists on a number of foreign trips including his recent tours to Qatar, UAE, Germany, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Based on the access to information law, government institutions are obliged to share information with journalists within three days, but there are indications that both the presidential palace and other government institutions have been reluctant to cooperate with journalists in this respect.

Previously, TOLOnews sent officials letters alongside the copy of the access to information law to government institutions to provide information about certain issues, however these letters were not met with respect by the government institutions.ToloNews