UPDATE: Afghan newspaper journalist released by Kabul police after more than 11 days in detention

IPI extremely concerned by deteriorating conditions facing journalists in Afghanistan

By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor

VIENNA, July 17, 2013—According to a press release issued by the Afghanistan Journalist Centre, Kabul police released Mandegar newspaper reporter Azizu Rhaman Sakhizadeh from detention today. Sakhizadeh had reportedly been under police custody for more than 11 days and was subject to several hours of police interrogation Wednesday prior to his release.

VIENNA, July 16, 2013—The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed concern today for the state of press freedom in Afghanistan following an increase in violence and the institution of criminal proceedings against journalists there, including the arrest of a reporter for the Kabul-based daily newspaper Mandegar and the sentencing of the newspaper’s editor to a prison term for reporting on alleged fraud during the country’s 2009 presidential election.

According to a July 11 report published in Persian by the Afghan freedom of expression civil society organisation Afghanistan Journalist Centre (AFJC), Mandegar reporter Azizu Rhaman Sakhizadeh was arrested on July 5 following a judicial complaint from the attorney general’s office in Kabul.

The investigative department of the attorney general’s office ordered Sakhizadeh’s arrest in connection with a libel complaint filed by Azizullah Ludin, head of the Afghan government’s High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOAC). Ludin filed the judicial complaint in response to a May 29 story alleging corruption among senior officials in the HOAC, despite Mandegar’s publication of Ludin’s written response to the story five days after it appeared in print.

Mandegar Editor-in-Chief Nazari Paryani told the AFJC that on July 16 the Ministry of Information and Culture invited him to participate in a “Media Complaint Commission” panel to review Ludin’s complaint against Sakhizadeh.

“I was invited to session to defend from Sakhizadeh against Ludin’s complaint, but since this commission has no legal base, I don’t want to participate at its panel and will not accept whatever comes out of it,” Paryani said.

Ludin is also involved in a separate judicial complaint against Paryani. On the same day as Sakhizadeh’s arrest, Paryani was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for publishing a story that alleged fraud in the 2009 presidential election.

According to the AFJC, Paryani received a phone call from his attorney notifying him that he had been given the 30-month jail sentence in absentia on June 5. Paryani, who has appealed the sentence, said that he was never aware of the original trial, held in his absence on March 2.

Speaking to IPI, Ahmad Quraishi, executive director of the AFJC referred to the actions against the two Mandegar employees as “illegal and in violation of the freedom of press in the country.” He added: “We ask the Afghan government to release the reporter immediately and stop the prosecution of its editor-in-chief.”

Quraishi also told IPI that the cases were illegal because, under the Afghan Media Law, all media-related complaints should be processed first by the country’s Media Commission, which may then refer the complaints to the judiciary if the Commission deems that to be warranted. Quraishi added that the Media Commission had yet to be set up and therefore the “arresting of a journalist, following a complaint and without being reviewed by the Media Commission is an act against the law”.

The past three months have been extremely dangerous for Afghan journalists, according to the AFJC, which has recorded 15 incidents of violence against journalists, including two murders, respectively, in the Kunduz and Kapisa provinces during that period.

IPI today said it views both the increasing violence and legal proceedings against journalists as matters of serious concern.

“These arrests come at a time of increasing pressure on journalists in a country that has failed to adequately protect them from both political and physical attacks,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “Left unchecked, these conditions will severely curtail journalists’ abilities to deliver accurate and relevant information to the public, and thereby threaten the future of democracy in Afghanistan”.