Issued by President Ashraf Ghani on 31 January, the decree clearly states: “Neither the public prosecutor nor any other state institution may prosecute media or journalists for a possible crime without consulting the Media Commission.”
Established by the new media law, this commission consists of representatives of the media, journalists’ associations and government. Its job is to receive and verify complaints against media outlets prior to any prosecution. Several state entities, including the prosecutor’s office, have in recent years summoned and interrogated journalists in a completely arbitrary manner.
The new presidential decree also orders the police and security services to improve their behaviour towards journalists, to respect the media law, and to reopen investigations into murders of journalists that have taken place in recent years.
The Afghan Journalists Federation, RSF’s partner in Afghanistan, said: “The decree is the fruit of two months of consultation and discussions between the federation, media defence associations and the president.”
Meanwhile, cases of police violence against journalists continue. In one of the latest instances, Mohammad Ehsagh Akrami, a Radio Killid journalist in Bamiyan province, was beaten by the police chief’s bodyguards on 17 January as the police chief looked on. Akrami had been filming the bodyguards using violence against other policemen.
Two days before the decree, Mohammad Zober Khaksar, a columnist for the newspaper Araman Mili who had worked for various media for 30 years including the national radio and TV broadcaster, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Nangarhar province. He had recently been appointed cultural adviser to the province’s governor. No group has claimed responsibility for his murder.
President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other officials called for a thorough investigation.
There have been attacks on media outlets by armed groups for months. The regional bureaux of the independent Afghan news agency Pajhwok and the US government’s Voice of America (VOA) in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, were badly damaged by a homemade bomb on 12 June 2015.
The main door and part of a wall of the building that houses Radio Safa, a local station, and the regional office of Radio Killid in Jalalabad were destroyed by a bomb on the night of 10 October 2015.
The first vice-president already instructed the prosecutor-general to reopen the investigations into cases of murdered journalists in November 2014. The prosecutor-general later said, “the cases will be carefully studied so that the perpetrators are identified and published.” But no prosecutions ensued.
“We hope that this time, after the president’s decree, the fight against impunity will be pursued to the end because the victims and the Afghan people have a right to truth and justice,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan desk.
“One of the main factors in violence against journalists is the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. We again point out that murders of Afghan journalists are not only crimes against free speech but can also be regarded as war crimes and, as such, can be severely punished.”