Many arbitrary arrests of journalists in Afghanistan

At least 12 journalists were arrested in Afghanistan in May although the Taliban announced the creation of a system for protecting media personnel. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns these arbitrary arrests and urges the Taliban government to keep its promises to protect journalists and comply with the press law.

During an event dedicated to press freedom organised by the new Afghanistan Federation of Journalists and Media and the Information and Culture Ministry on 19 May, several representatives of local associations raised the difficulties that journalists and media outlets are encountering.

In particular, they cited the “lack of access to precise information,” the “lack of freedom of expression,” the “economic problems of the country’s media,” and “aggressive behaviour by the Islamic Emirate’s security forces towards media workers.”

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Information and Culture Ministry’s deputy minister for publications, used the event to announce the immediate creation of the Media Offences Verification Commission and the Commission for the Right of Access to Information.

A Media Offences Verification Commission was one of the provisions of the press law adopted under the previous government and Afghan journalists have repeatedly called for its creation as it could offer them more protection as long as they are allowed to work independently and the press law is properly implemented.

According to the press law, complaints against journalists and media outlets are supposed to be handled by the Media Offences Verification Commission, and can be transferred to a court only if this commission so decides.

However, the commission’s announced creation has not as yet been followed up, and has not prevented many arrests of journalists. A total of 12 were arrested between 28 March and 29 May and four of them are still in prison.

They are Khalid Qaderi, a poet and Radio Norroz journalist, who was sentenced to a year in prison by a military court in the western city of Herat on 7 May; Mirza Hassani, the director of Radio Sedai Aftab (Sun’s Voice), who has been detained provisionally in Herat since 22 May for “collaborating with the resistance front”; Jamaluddin Deldar, a Radio Gardiz journalist who was arrested on 24 May, apparently in connection with his father’s political views; and Khan Mohammad Sayal, a Payvasouton TV journalist arrested on 10 May in the central province of Oruzgan in what was described as “a private case” with no further explanation. None of their cases was handled by the Media Offences Verification Commission, as the law requires.

Three journalists in the northern province of Faryab – Basireh Mosamam, Ologh Big Ghafori and Firouz Ghafori – were also arrested on 28 May in response to a complaint by the Information and Culture Ministry’s local director, whose corrupt practices when he was the national education department’s local director were exposed by these journalists.

After being held for seven hours, they were released on bail pending trial. As an initial complaint was deemed inadmissible, their arrest was an abuse of authority that compounded the failure to refer the case to the commission.

Jawad Etemad, a journalist with the Asvaka News agency, was held for two days after being arrested by the Istikhbarat (intelligence services) on 13 May while covering a bombing at a mosque in Kabul.

RSF has learned that SubhKabul journalist Aliakbar Khairkhawa was arrested by a branch of the Istikhbarat five days before his release by “unidentified men.” Journalist Roman Karimi, a Salam Wadanadr reporter identified only as Samiollah, and a New York Times photographer identified only as Farzad were arrested while covering a women’s protest in Kabul the same day and were released after being questioned for seven hours.

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