Calls Grow To Ensure Protection Of Journalists In Afghanistan On World Press Freedom Day

Kabul: As the world marks, World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the global community at large has come forward to opine that the Afghan authorities must take urgent steps to provide journalists with greater protection, following a year of spiraling threats, intimidation, harassment, and violent attacks against the country’s media workers.

Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

“At least 11 journalists were killed in 2020 in targeted attacks in Afghanistan, with four more reportedly killed this year. Nearly all the killings, invariably carried out by unidentified gunmen, have gone uninvestigated. Faced with this dire situation and with multiple journalist ‘hit lists’ in open circulation, many journalists are fleeing the country,” said Amnesty International.

While the EU delegation in Afghanistan, in a joint statement, said, “A free, independent and strong media sector are essential parts of an inclusive and representative Afghanistan. The media is integral to building public opinion and support for peace and any future political settlement to the conflict. We recognize that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk.” In its latest annual report, published in March, the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) said it had registered more than 100 cases of aggression – including murder, death threats, physical attacks and insults – against women journalists in the past year. “The precarity of Afghan women journalists has increased not only as a result of the physical dangers but also as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown,” CPAWJ director Farida Nekzad said. “At least 20% of them have lost their jobs or have been forced to take unpaid leave by their employers.”

Inside the country too, many voiced their opinions about a free and independent media scene in the country. The High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) stated that after the formation of the post-2001 system, the role of the press in realizing the values of democracy, freedom of expression, state-nation-building, anti-corruption, transparency, accountability, dynamism and enlightenment of public opinion have been very valuable and effective.

“A free and democratic media is one of the greatest and most important achievements of the Afghan people in the last 20 years, and that maintaining, strengthening and supporting this achievement is their national duty,” the HCNR statement added. The Reconciliation Council recognized the sacrifices made by the Afghan media and said that these sacrifices will not be ignored in the peace process.

In fact in 2016, a Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists, was established by the Afghan government to address the security risks faced by media workers, but it has made limited efforts to stem the violence.
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Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International, said, “For simply doing their job, Afghanistan’s journalists put themselves at grave risk every single day. The violent cycle of killings, harassment and intimidation is escalating, but this has not been matched by a robust counter-response from the authorities. The Joint Committee should launch thorough, effective and transparent investigations into killings and ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials.”

With the withdrawal of foreign troops currently underway in the county, violence has been on the rise. RSF and CPAWJ have warned that the press freedom situation is disastrous in Afghanistan, 14 months after the Taliban and United States signed a peace accord on February 29, 2020, and eight months after the Taliban and Afghan government began peace talks.

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