RSF’s recommendations take account of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, which is due to the fact that both the Taliban and Islamic State are carrying out more attacks.
Both the frequency and violence of anti-government protests have grown in the past year, and covering them has increasingly been a source of tension between journalists, demonstrators and the security forces.
A dozen journalists were mistreated or beaten by presidential bodyguards or by security personnel from Kabul when the president visited the central province of Bamiyan on 29 August 2016.
Journalists have also been injured or mistreated during two other major demonstrations. A suicide bombing blamed on both the Taliban and Islamic State killed scores of people at a “Movement of Light” protest in Kabul on 23 July 2016 against the re-routing of a proposed power transmission line away from Bamiyan province.
The police used force to disperse a demonstration on 3 June 2017 by the “Uprising for Change” protest movement, which is demanding security reforms and the resignation of senior security officials. One-sided coverage of these three events by certain media outlets has helped to fuel tension in Afghanistan.
The right to demonstrate peacefully is enshrined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Afghanistan is a signatory. The right is also guaranteed in article 37 of Afghanistan’s own constitution.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states that journalists have the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” This obviously includes the right to cover a demonstration.
In its Resolution 25/38 of March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council recognized the “important role” that journalists play in “documenting human rights violations or abuses committed in the context of peaceful protests." The resolution also urged governments “to pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and media workers covering peaceful protests, taking into account their specific role, exposure and vulnerability.”
Article 20 of the Covenant stresses the importance of news coverage by distinguishing it from “propaganda for war” and by prohibiting “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”
The “important role” played by the media and journalists also requires universal and effective respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
RSF stresses that the freedom to inform must not be used irresponsibly. Journalists are not ordinary members of the public, inasmuch as other people listen to and pay attention to what they say.
In this light, RSF asks
All those present at demonstrations to:
- Respect photo-reporting and video-reporting by journalists, and accept that participating in a public event entails the possibility of being photographed or filmed.
- Not obstruct the work of journalists, respect their physical integrity and respect their equipment.
- Respect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
The Afghan state to:
- Implement the recommendation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 25/38, especially paragraphs 8, 10, 12 and 13.
- Respect articles 24, 27, 34 and 37 of the constitution (on respecting human freedom and dignity, on the state’s obligation to respect and support human dignity, on the principle of legality as regards crimes and punishment, on freedom of the media and on freedom of association).
- Pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and to protecting the freedom to inform in connection with demonstrations.
- Provide members of the security forces with appropriate training. Police academies must incorporate training about articles 24, 27, 34 and 37 of the constitution (see above), and about press law, image rights and civil liberties.
- Prosecute those who obstruct the work of journalists (by arresting them, seizing their equipment and so on) or who attack them while they are covering demonstrations.
- Adopt legislation making it a crime (with criminal sanctions) for a public official to obstruct the freedom to inform.
- Adopt legislation protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and prohibiting the seizure of journalistic equipment and material.
- Establish a system of compensation for journalists who are injured and must pay medical fees and/or whose equipment is confiscated or destroyed.
The media to:
- Respect the principles on the rights and duties of journalists.
- Cover events in an ethical manner, without inciting hatred, especially during news broadcasts.
- Act professionally when moderating debates and interviews, and not provide a platform to those who promote hatred towards religious and ethnic communities.
- Reinforce provisions for protecting Afghan journalists, especially in the country’s provinces.
- Clarify the nature of their presence at a demonstration. Journalists must make it clear whether they are at a demonstration as reporters, in order to cover it, or as ordinary members of the public exercising their democratic right to demonstrate.
RSF reiterates what it has said in the past: “In this war imposed by democracy’s enemies against the Afghan people’s right to information, RSF has chosen to stand alongside the journalists and to do everything possible to defend the freedom to inform. At the same time, we call on the media and journalists to cover the current grave political and security crisis in Afghanistan with professionalism.”
Afghanistan is ranked 120th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.