Dear Mr. President,
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom worldwide, is worried about a recent wave of press freedom violations in Afghanistan, which are unfortunately not isolated acts but rather the work of influential persons of various political views.
The media have a key role in helping democracy to take root in Afghanistan, and our organisation hailed the fundamental role they played in the successful holding of legislative elections on 18 September 2005.
We would therefore like to ask you to firmly condemn these attacks and to take all necessary measures to protect journalists and their news organisations. We also urge you to intercede on behalf of Abdul Qudoos, who has been imprisoned for more than seven months despite clear evidence of his innocence.
The rate of press freedom violations has increased in recent weeks and we would like to draw your attention to some of the cases that are particularly disturbing.
Unknown individuals burnt down the premises of radio Isteqlal in the eastern province of Logar on the night of 11 August, setting fire to the building and causing near 50,000 dollars in damage. The building’s guards were injured as they fought the fire. According to the Committee to Project Afghan Journalists (CPAJ), leaflets were circulated clandestinely the previous night.
Several members of parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, verbally attacked the privately-owned television station Tolo TV on 14 August and staged a walk-out from the assembly because it had screened footage showing parliamentarians asleep during debates. Warlord Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf accused Tolo TV of waging a campaign to smear him and of organising the recent demonstrations against him in the Paghman district of Kabul. Hundreds of people had participated in these protests in July against his illegal appropriation of land. A Tolo TV crew was attacked by 12 gunmen during one of these protests and their camera was stolen. Tolo TV rejects Sayyaf’s accusations as unfounded, as does the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which he has accused of conspiracy.
Abdul Qudoos, a journalist with radio Sada-e-Sulh (Voice of Peace) in the eastern province of Parwan, has been detained for more than seven months without any evidence being produced against him. Parliamentarian Saima Sadaat accused him of being behind an attempt to murder her shortly after the new Afghan parliament’s inauguration. But her grounds for making this accusation is simply the fact that his radio station’s editor, Zakai Zaki, was her leading opponent in the legislative elections. Sadaat has also tried to close the station, which she regards as a propaganda tool in the service of her political rivals. She had not produced any evidence for these allegations, while several witnesses say Qudoos was attending a workshop organised by the Afghan NGO NAI a few hours before the murder attempt took place.
Finally, Kamal Sadaat, the BBC’s correspondent in the province of Khost, was attacked by 10 gunmen as he was returning home yesterday. His assailants hit him and took his car, camera and laptop as well as other items of value.
Our organisation hopes you will personally look into these cases and will urge your government to work to consolidate a climate in which journalists are not threatened. The Afghan constitution protects press freedom but the climate of violence against the media jeopardises some of the democratic gains and encourages self-censorship.
We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.