Kabul: Afghanistan dropped one place from its rank last year 121 to 122 this year in the newly-released 2020 Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The group has called Afghanistan Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh the “world’s deadliest countries for journalists and bloggers” and added that peace is crucial for the country to obtain better standards of press freedom.
RSF in its report mentioned concerns that press freedom, along with other freedoms, “could be sacrificed in the course of international efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan”. According to the report, no journalist was killed in the country so far this year, but for Afghanistan’s journalists, 2018 was the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
A total of 15 journalists and media workers were killed in a series of bombings that began early in the year, nine of them in a single day. “Women journalists are a favorite target, and are especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda is heeded,” the report says.
The organization said that even though peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been ongoing since September 2020, violence against journalists and media outlets continues unabated.
Six journalists and media workers have been the victims of targeted killings since the start of 2020. The problems for journalists have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken the lives of at least seven journalists and has caused economic problems forcing many media outlets to lay off staff or reduce the hours they work (with a corresponding loss in pay).
There is much concern that basic freedoms, including the freedom of women journalists, could be sacrificed for the sake of a peace deal. In response to this threat, the RSF-backed Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists has waged several campaigns for the protection of the rights of women journalists as a precondition for a lasting peace.
This comes even as a group of Afghan journalists and media officials on April 17 established the “Afghanistan Free Speech Hub”. The Free Speech Hub aims to create an inclusive, pluralistic, and professional organization for journalists and media workers. There are growing calls for an immediate end to the targeted killings of journalists and other civilians, and requests that cases of murder and violence against journalists should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
There is hope that transparency in the peace process would be ensured through the continued access of the Afghan people and the media to the details of the peace talks and the presence of representatives of Afghan journalists and civil society in the peace process.