27 March 2019
KABUL: Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) recorded a total of 92 cases of violence including 20 fatal cases against journalists and media workers in 1397 Solar Year (21 March 2018- 20 March 2019), a deadliest year for Afghan media.
Most of the fatal cases were targeted killings and assassinations, raising deep concerns on 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 target attacks and explosions. 18 journalists were injured and 14 received death threatening.
He further noted that there were 12 cases of physical harassments and 10 cases of insulting. Meanwhile, 64 cases of limitation on access to information were recorded by the organization over the past 12 months.
According to Quraishi, 13 out of 20 fatal cases of journalists have been claimed by Daesh(IS), five by unknown armed men, and two by the Taliban. In addition, from 11 out of 18 incidents of injuries, Daesh is responsible for 11 and the remaining by unknown armed men.
“These attacks demonstrate clear violation to journalist’s lives and undermine public’s right to know and create an environment of self-censorship, especially in insecure southern and eastern provinces.” AFJC Executive Director added.
AFJC’s findings show that from 18 incidents of attack on journalists and media outlets, 13 were carried out by unknown armed men, four by the Taliban and two incidents by the IS(Daesh). 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 abuse of journalists during the last 12-months.
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 freedom of press during their five-year ruling remains a major concern for future status of nascent free Afghan media. Meanwhile, non-existence of job security and health insurance are among the serious problems faced by Afghan journalists during the last year.
Media workers are being employed without work and health insurances. Owners of media outlets sometimes interfere in 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 the 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 paid suitable salary to its employees.
The AFJC findings indicate, a number of media managers pressurized their journalists to work in a way that is against journalistic standards and is unprofessional. If the journalists resist against such biased demand of their managers, they would lose their jobs and in light of such severe rules, cannot seek job for long time.
Most national media still lack medical insurance. While facing medical problems, some media employees do not even have the money for their treatment.
Though, Afghanistan is ranked first in the world on right to information by Centre for Law and Democracy and Human Rights index 2018, limit access to the information in particular in the provinces remains a major challenge for Afghan journalists. 64 cases of limitation on access to information by local authorities were reported to AFJC. The article 50 of the Constitution states that the citizens of Afghanistan shall have the right of access to information from state departments in accordance with the provisions of the law. This right shall have no limit except when harming rights of others as well as public security.
According to article 34 of 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 provisions of 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 aids, which were facing financial challenges during the last 12 months. Since withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 and then shortage of international assistance and advertisement due to intensifying of war and shrinking of business opportunities, dozens of media in the province were closed or forced to limit their staff.
While culture of impunity continued in 1397 solar year (2018), most cases had not been investigated seriously. AFJC’s finding shows in more than 95% cases, the perpetrators are 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 independent free media in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Government should end the impunity for crimes committed against journalists by creation of a special court and make sure that justice is preserved for all the incidents.
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 press and freedom of expression, the Afghan institutions should be committed in promoting and empowering these important values.
The achievements of the Afghan media made over the last 18 years (after 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 full respect for human rights in particular freedom expression and freedom of media.
International community is also expected to continue the flow of its aids to free and young Afghan media as much as needed. The international community should protect this important achievement against any harm.