Reporters Without Borders wrote today to Afghanistan’s leading presidential candidates – including Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, Ramazan Bashardost and Sayed Jalal Karim – urging them to give a clear undertaking to ensure that press freedom becomes firmly rooted in the everyday life of Afghans. The election is due to take place on 20 August.
The letter asked them to publicly express their concern about a recent wave of press freedom violations, pointing out that the threats to Afghan and foreign journalists in Afghanistan do not come from the Taliban alone, but also from criminal groups, politicians and security officials.
“We sincerely hope you take up the issue of press freedom (…) and relaunch the investigations into murders and physical attacks on journalists,” the letter said, mentioning the murders of Peace Radio director Zakia Zaki, BBC reporter Abdul Rohani and Jawed Ahmad, a fixer for Canadian news media.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the violence against journalists, who include the security forces. In the most recent case, five journalists were beaten by police officers in Herat on 30 July while investigating the death of a civilian at the hands of the police.
Without concrete improvements in respect for press freedom, “your country risks losing the confidence of journalists and the support of international public opinion,” the letter said. “This would complicate the task of foreign governments, including those of the European Union, which support your country financially, militarily and politically.”
Reporters Without Borders also asked each candidate “to pledge to release Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist who was unjustly sentenced to 20 years in prison on a blasphemy charge for downloading an article from the Internet.” It added: “More than 1 million people around the world have already signed a petition for his release. The confirmation that he was tortured by members of the security forces has cast doubt on their ability to respect international standards in this regard.”
Urging the candidates to publicly oppose the politicisation of the charge of blasphemy, the letter said it was vital that article 130 of the Afghan constitution, concerning blasphemy, should stop being used to prosecute people for the views they express.
The letter also mentioned a proposed new press law that has been blocked for political reasons, the need to decriminalise press offences and the need to pass a law that improves the situation of journalists as regards contracts and salaries.