Afghanistan: Open letter to President Hamid Karzai before the Paris reconstruction conference

    MONTREAL, June 11 /CNW Telbec/ -

    Reporters Without Borders

    HE Hamid Karzai President of the Republic
    Kabul - Afghanistan
    Paris, 11 June 2008

    Dear Mr. President,

    Reporters Without Borders urges you, on the eve of tomorrow's conference
    in Paris on Afghanistan's development and reconstruction, to give a clear
    undertaking that your government will protect press freedom, which is
    currently under so much threat in your country.

    Press freedom has, it is true, been one of the achievements of
    reconstruction in the almost seven years since the fall of the Taliban
    regime. Afghanistan has around 300 newspapers, 14 of them dailies, more
    than 10 privately-owned TV and radio stations and seven news agencies.
    Afghanistan has never had so many news media and journalists. But
    violence against the press is growing steadily. In the past 12 months,
    Reporters Without Borders has registered no fewer that 18 physical
    attacks on journalists, 23 death threats, 14 arrests and four abductions.
    Dozens of other journalists have been forced to resign because of outside

    We expect you to give an undertaking to the international community in
    Paris tomorrow that you will deal with the most important press freedom
    violations. If this is not done, your government risks to lose the trust
    of Afghan journalists and the support of international public opinion and
    this would necessarily complicate matters for the countries, including
    those of the European Union, that are supporting your administration
    financially, militarily and politically.

    You must of course be aware, Mr. President, of the case of the young
    journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, which has shocked the entire world.
    The death sentence passed on him by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif triggered a
    wave of legitimate outrage. More than a million people have already
    signed a petition launched by the British newspaper The Independent
    calling for his release. The recent revelation that he was tortured by
    members of the security services casts doubt on your government's ability
    to respect the relevant international standards.

    How, Mr. President, can you ask for greater support from western
    countries when, at the same time, judges, prosecutors, political leaders
    and some clerics are targeting Afghan journalists with such virulence in
    your country? Kambakhsh's release and the quashing of his death sentence
    would be a positive signal in an otherwise sombre panorama.

    The enduring impunity in many cases of violence against Afghan
    journalists is unacceptable. The inability of the police and judicial
    authorities to arrest the murderers of Peace Radio director Zakia Zaki
    undermines your international commitments on the rule of law. This
    impunity has paved the way for a new wave of violence against women
    journalists. Since Zaki's murder a year ago, dozens of Afghan women
    journalists have been attacked, threatened or reduced to silence. Only a
    clear determination on your part to solve these cases could put an end to
    these attacks. In the absence of action, the soothing words of your
    ministers lose all credibility.

    At least 10 women journalists have been attacked in Herat province alone
    in recent months. "The lack of action on the part of the authorities is a
    major factor in the increase in these attacks," says Rahimullah Samandar,
    the head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA).

    Anonymous callers threatened to kill three women journalists at the start
    of this year in Mazar-i-Sharif. One caller said: "Why do you work with
    the Americans? Take care, you are going to be killed." Another said: "If
    you continue to show yourself on television, your sister, your mother and
    other members of your family could be kidnapped." Despite their repeated
    requests, these journalists were not given police protection.

    Reporters Without Borders has received damning accounts about the
    inability of the authorities to protect journalists in cities such as
    Herat, in western Afghanistan. Khadijeh Ahadi, the presenter of a very
    popular programme on radio Faryad was forced to leave the city after
    receiving death threats. In her programme, she had allowed members of the
    public to talk on the air about their everyday life.

    Harassment forced Hasam Shams to resign as head of the state TV
    television's branch in Herat. "The renaissance of the media was carried
    out with the participation of young journalists, but the enemies of press
    freedom, especially men armed by the former warlords, do not tolerate the
    emergence of these media and have the power to prevent us from working,"
    Shams said.

    Explaining the difference in press freedom between Kabul and the
    provinces, TKG press group director Najiba Ayubi says: "The presence of
    the international community and foreign journalists in the capital forces
    the government to tolerate press freedom, even if it does not really like
    it," she says. "But officials do what they want in the provinces. As long
    as men who are hostile to free expression have guns and government
    support, they will be no hope for journalists."

    When questioned by Reporters Without Borders, many Afghan journalists are
    extremely critical of your government's defence of their freedom. "The
    government has lost its honour by proving itself incapable of protecting
    free expression," says Saad Mohseni, the head of privately-owned Tolo TV,
    who is often harassed by the judicial and religious authorities.

    As you must be aware, Mr. President, the attacks concentrate above all on
    independent news media that are often critical of the national and local

    Your government is obviously not responsible for the most serious
    violations. This week's murder of Abdul Samad Rohani, a reporter for the
    BBC and the news agency Pajhwok in the southern province of Helmand, by a
    Taliban commander's men, again highlighted the barbarity of the rebels.
    Sayed Agha and Adjmal Nasqhbandi, the driver and guide of Italian
    reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, were killed by Taliban in the same
    province last year.

    Finally, we hope that Afghan diplomats will intercede on behalf of
    Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, the editor of the monthly Haqoq-e-Zan (Women's
    Rights), whose situation in Iran continues to be fraught. Although
    released on bail on 29 May after 86 days in an intelligence ministry
    prison in the city of Qom, 150 km southwest of Tehran, he is still
    harassed in Iran and Afghanistan.

    Never in the history of Afghanistan has the population had so much access
    to news and information produced by Afghans for Afghans. The most popular
    news media used to be foreign ones such as the BBC and VOA. Today, the
    country's independent media have proved to be a tremendous success with
    Afghans, especially the younger ones. But it is these media that are the
    targets of attacks, pressure and legal and religious harassment, which
    too often comes from the ranks of your supporters.

    Mr. President, we are confident that you will be receptive to our request
    and that you will do your best to put an end to this situation.

    Robert Ménard

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive director,
Reporters without borders Canada, (514) 521-4111,

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