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Afghanistan - World Report 2009

156 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 652,088 sq. km.
-  Population: 31,738,000
-  Languages: Pashto and Dari
-  Head of state: Hamid Karzai, since December 2001

Journalists in Afghanistan have seen a serious deterioration in their working conditions since 2008. The Taliban remain the foremost press freedom predators, but judges, prosecutors, political chiefs and religious leaders also regularly go after journalists and free expression activists, sometimes resorting to violence.

There are 300 newspapers in Afghanistan, including 14 dailies, at least 15 television stations and hundreds of privately-owned radios stations, as well as seven news agencies. Genuine pluralism exists thanks to the policy of President Hamid Karzai and the international community. But in parallel, there has been a continuous upsurge in violence against the press. And in this area, there is virtually no sign of any evidence of commitment from the authorities to put an end to it.

Journalists still do not have the necessary security for doing their work, more than seven years after the fall of the Taliban. And there are new threats from drug and kidnap gangs as well as the politicising of the crime of “blasphemy”, none of which the Karzai government has managed to curb, even if it wanted to.

Afghanistan’s security, political and financial crisis has serious repercussions for the work of journalists. The state is unable to guarantee journalists’ safety. Thus, between June 2007 and January 2009, there were no fewer than 24 physical assaults, 35 death threats, 14 arrests and seven abductions. Scores more journalists, mainly women and those working in the provinces, have been forced to resign because of external pressure.

Afghan journalists are relatively free to express themselves, as long as they do not comment critically on the country’s only really taboo subject: Islam. Through the will of the Mujahideen, the Constitution prevails but Sharia law can be applied, under Articles 130 and 131 of fundamental law. Perwiz Kambakhsh has since 27 October 2007 been serving a 20-year prison sentence in Kabul for downloading an article about the role of women in Islam.

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