May 7, 2020

Afghan peace must not result in impunity for war crimes

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned that some of the thousands of Taliban prisoners who are to be freed under a peace deal signed by the Taliban and the United States on 29 February were directly involved in bombings that killed journalists.

The peace deal is beginning to take effect amid the Covid-19 epidemic, although the fighting between there rival factions continues and the thorny issue of prisoner releases is still far from settled.



The Afghan authorities have so far freed 700 prisoners and the Taliban have freed 112, according to the latest figures provided by Javid Feisal, the spokesman of the Afghan government’s National Security Council, on 3 May.



The figures have been confirmed by Soheil Shahin, the Taliban spokesman based in the Qatari city of Doha, who is calling for the releases to be accelerated in order to facilitate the start of direct talks between Afghans, as envisaged under the agreement reached by the United States.



Despite pressure from many Afghan politicians and several foreign governments, President Ashraf Ghani continues to oppose the collective release of all Taliban prisoners, as the Taliban themselves are demanding. Some of the 5,000 Taliban fighters still held by the government, who include 15 commanders, were responsible for bombings that killed many civilians, including journalists and media workers.



One of these bombs ­– in a Kabul neighbourhood with many embassies and media outlets on 31 May 2017 – killed around 150 people. The fatalities included Habib Hossienzadeh, a journalist working for Iran’s English-language Press TV, Aziz Novin, who worked for the Afghan TV channel Tolo News, and Mohammad Nazir, a BBC driver. Four BBC journalists and two journalists with the Afghan TV channel TV1 were among the wounded, while TV1’s headquarters was badly damaged.


This bombing was never claimed. But in 2018 the Afghan authorities announced the arrest of some of those allegedly responsible, members of the Haqqani network, one of the Taliban movement’s most radical wings. They included a commander known as Lailalaldin, who is one of the 15 prisoners whose immediate release the Taliban are currently demanding, RSF has learned.



“All of those responsible for crimes of violence against journalists must be brought to trial and punished,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan desk. “The victims and the Afghan people have a right to truth and justice. A commitment to press freedom requires an end to impunity for those responsible for these abuses. Compromising justice does not favour a just and lasting peace.”


Taliban attacks against Afghan government forces have intensified since the signing of the peace deal with the United States. And, since the start of Ramadan, journalists and media chiefs in several provinces have been “summoned” or threatened by the Taliban, who are demanding an end to certain entertainment programmes.



On 11 April, the Afghan police announced the arrests of three of the leaders of Islamic State Khorasan Province (the name used by Islamic State in the Afghanistan-Iran region). They include their chief, Abollah Vorokzi, also known as Islam Faroughi. Since 2015, Islamic State Khorasan Province has claimed several bombings that have killed a total of 15 journalists and media workers.



Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.