Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests of journalists in Zabul and Khost by the National Department of Security (NDS), and the harassment of reporters of Pajhwok Afghan News since they started covering the theft and smuggling of ventilators.
In their statement released on Thursday, RSF stated that journalist Mahboob Hakimi of Radio Bayan (Word) along with Farough jan Mangol, a Reuters correspondent were unlawfully taken by the NDS.
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RSF reported that Hakimi has been arrested twice in the past eight days. He was arrested on July 1 from his home in Zabul’s capital Qalat city by the NDS for a post on Facebook that was considered disrespectful to President Ashraf Ghani. Just before his arrest, Hakimi had denied being the post’s author, explaining that his Facebook account had been hacked.
In a video taken by the NDS a few days later, Hakimi confessed to being responsible for the original Facebook post and apologized to the president. Shortly after his release on Tuesday, he said he had been tortured and forced to make a confession.
He was arrested again when he went back to the local headquarters of the NDS to collect his personal belongings.
Mangol, a Khost resident, was arrested on July 1 when NDS agents searched his home without a warrant, RSF said.
After finishing the search, the NDS took Mangol back to their headquarters, where they questioned him for two hours and then released him, saying there had been a mistake.
Afghanistan’s biggest news agency, Pajhwok Afghan News, has reported being harassed ever since their June 22 investigative article which found that 32 ventilators intended for Afghan COVID-19 patients had been stolen and sold to Pakistan.
Pajhwok News Director Danish Karokhel was interrogated when he accepted an invitation by the parliamentary commission for culture for what was described as a consultation.
RSF reports that Karokhel and the agency were accused of acting “against national security.”
The next day, Vice-President Amrullah Saleh accused Pajhwok of lying in a tweet: “NO ventilator is missing from the health ministry inventory in Kabul or the provinces. NOT ONE. Don’t fall into the trap of lies and dishonesty. When someone tells you the cat has stolen your nose, touch your nose first before chasing the cat, who is looking at you. Calm down.”
“We call on President Ashraf Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh to respect the press law they promised to implement,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan desk. “The country’s authorities and security officials must respect this pledge and this law when taking action against ‘rumours and fake news.’ It is vital that the media should be able to do their work without impediment, in order to inform the public what is being done to combat corruption and any shortcomings.”
According to the Afghan press laws, complaints against media and journalists must first be handled by the Commission for the Verification of Press Offences, which transfers them to the courts when appropriate. Neither parliament, not the vice-president nor the NDS has the right to directly summon, arrest or threaten journalists. No formal action has been taken against Pajhwok, whose damning report was extensively documented.