Afghanistan - Reporters Without Borders gives Kabul news conference, urges government to make press freedom a priority



    MONTREAL, Jan. 15 /CNW Telbec/ - Addressing a news conference today in
Kabul, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard
urged President Hamid Karzai and the rest of the Afghan government to make it
one of their priorities to defend press freedom. Accompanied by
representatives of Afghan journalists' organisations, Julliard gave the press
conference on the penultimate day of a one-week fact-finding visit to
Afghanistan at the head of a Reporters Without Borders delegation.
    "The press freedom situation is getting worse in Afghanistan and it is
the government's duty to reverse this disturbing trend," Julliard said. "The
country cannot continue to develop and progress towards democracy without a
free and independent press. The president and his government must get fully
involved in this issue and must take measures that give journalists more
freedom to work. Much needs to be done in Afghanistan but the country will not
be able to recover from 30 years of war without free and diverse news media."
    Reporters Without Borders continued: "The threats against Afghan
journalists and visiting foreign journalists are becoming more and more
diverse. As well as the Taliban, who have never ceased to threaten to kill
journalists who do not comply with their demands, there are now criminals and
mafia groups.
    "Afghan journalists are free to express their views - as long as they
stay clear of the country's only truly taboo subject, Islam - but they operate
in very difficult security conditions. The south and the east of the country
are extremely unstable and fewer and fewer journalists are visiting these
regions, which are no longer under government control and have become black
holes for news and information."
    The Reporters Without Borders delegation visited the Kabul provisional
detention centre on 12 January to meet with journalist Perwiz Kambakhsh, who
is serving a 20-year prison sentence for downloading an essay about women's
rights in Islam. He was originally sentenced to death.
    "As long as a citizen can be sentenced to death or to a long jail term
just for reading a report on the Internet, we will not be able to say there is
free expression in Afghanistan. Perwiz Kambakhsh must be released as soon as
possible. He committed no crime and this case, which has been marred by
judicial irregularities, is a grave stain on Afghanistan's image. We told all
the officials we met that his conviction must be overturned."
    Two journalists were killed in 2008 and around 50 were attacked or
injured. Reporters Without Borders believes President Karzai must get to grips
with this issue and make it very clear that he will not let impunity take hold
as regards violence against journalists.
    Many live in fear, and it is the job of the authorities to take measures
to reassure them and to enable them to work without constant security
concerns. It is deplorable than around 10 women journalists have been forced
to abandon their work in recent months because of threats. Few of them got the
necessary protection.
    The authorities need to be more effective in solving the cases of
journalists who have been murdered or who have been the victims of threats.
Proper investigations need to be carried out to identify those responsible. It
is unacceptable that the murders of Zakia Zaki and Abdul Samad Rohani have
gone unpunished.
    Reporters Without Borders also called for the rapid adoption of a
proposed media law. Many journalists' representatives are expecting a lot from
this bill, which is still being examined and which has been a victim of the
difficulties that the parliament and government are having in working
together.
    The government must also envisage drafting a law facilitating access to
information. All the journalists who met the delegation said it was hard to
get reliable information or comments from officials.
    Reporters Without Borders said: "In any important event linked to the
ongoing conflict, there are at least five different versions of the facts -
the Taliban version, the defence ministry version, the version of the
president's office, the version of the International Security Assistance
Force, and the version of the few eye-witnesses who are ready to talk to the
press. The government version is often the longest and hardest to obtain.
While we welcome the creation of a Media Centre, the government must
communicate better and make itself more available to journalists."
    Reporters Without Borders also believes certain media owners must stop
meddling in editorial content. The owners of media and their reporters should
be kept far apart. Too many media are used for partisan purposes by their
shareholders, and news quality suffers as a result. Journalists' organisations
are also discussing a code of conduct for the media and Reporters Without
Borders supports this initiative. Reporters Without Borders also hails the
efforts of Afghan journalists' organisations to unite in defence of press
freedom.
    As well as Julliard, the Reporters Without Borders delegation consisted
of Vincent Brossel, the head of its Asia Desk, and Réza Moini, the staff
member responsible for Afghanistan. They met the justice minister, the culture
and information minister, a Council of Ulemas representative, civil society
representative, ISAF officials, diplomats and many journalists and media
organisations.
    The delegation arrived in Afghanistan on 10 January and is due to leave
tomorrow. Reporters Without Borders will issue a detailed report on the visit
in the coming weeks.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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