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Afghanistan 16 April 2002

Journalist penalised for question asked at the Karzai-Musharraf press conference

Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) has written to the Afghan Minister for Information and Culture, Rahin Makhdoom, expressing concern at the sanctions imposed on journalist Kabir Omarzai who works for Afghanistan’s national radio and television network. "In view of interim chairman Hamid Karzai’s personal commitment to support freedom of expression, this sanctioning without grounds of a journalist who did nothing more than ask a question at a press conference is regrettable", says the organisation’s Secretary-General Robert Ménard. RSF has asked the Minister to reconsider this decision and to allow Kabir Omarzai to carry out his work without any restrictions.

image 180 x 108 (JPEG) According to information obtained by RSF, Afghanistan’s interim chairman, Hamid Karzai, asked the Minister for Information and Culture to sanction Kabir Omarzai, a journalist who works for Afghan national radio and television, a few days after the visit to Kabul of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. At the joint press conference, held in Kabul on 2 April 2002, the journalist had asked the Afghan and Pakistani leaders a question about the border area problem, an issue of contention between the two countries. Hamid Karzai had interrupted the journalist in mid-question and refused to reply. Afghan television cut the incident from its report of the press conference. According to an article published in issue 11 of the Kabul Weekly, Kabir Omarzai received notification from the Minister that he had been suspended from his duties for an unspecified length of time. According to certain sources, Mr Omarzai has been allowed to return to work, but will not be covering any official events.

This is the first time since the fall of the Taleban regime than an Afghan journalist has been penalised for simply exercising the right to information. Taking office on 22 December 2001, Hamid Karzai declared, "Freedom of expression and of belief is each and every Afghan citizen’s right, and it is our responsibility to defend that right ".

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