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Afghan Journalists Complain Of Increasing Threats

Afghan journalists hold the pictures colleagues killed in recent years (file photo, November 2014)
Afghan journalists hold the pictures colleagues killed in recent years (file photo, November 2014)

KABUL, Zabihullah Zahir, an Afghan television journalist, recently investigated corruption within a government department.

What he discovered was potentially explosive: Some powerful figures are involved in corruption.

Instead of reporting the facts that Zahir had uncovered, he decided to censor himself.

"The prevalent atmosphere of threats and intimidation affects how journalists work in Afghanistan," he told Radio Mashaal. "Even after collecting all the facts about the story for a week, I was not able to tell the whole story. The version that finally went on air had no impact."

Zahir, who reports for the Pashto-language channel Shamshad TV, is still reluctant to name the powerful figures involved in graft and embezzlement because they could threaten or harm him.

"Threats and intimidation are a given for anyone who wants to become a journalist in Afghanistan," he said. "This impacts our work and stops journalists from reporting the whole truth to their audience."

Seddiqullah Tauhidi is an advocacy manager at the Afghan media freedom watchdog Nai. He agrees with Zahir and says threats and violence against journalists are on the rise across Afghanistan.

"During the past few months, risks to journalists have mounted, and most threats are posed by lawmakers, police officials, and provincial governors," he said.

Tauhidi says journalists often face threats when they attempt to probe the ongoing violence in Afghanistan or attempt to peek into the workings of government organizations.

In the most recent incidents of journalist intimidation, a television journalist in the Central Afghan province of Baghlan claimed to be threatened by a lawmaker.

Sher Muhammad Jaheez says he was given death threats by lawmaker Ashiqullah Wafa. Jaheez says that after Tanvir, the TV station he helps run, ran a story about a former Baghlan police chief on May 26, Wafa threatened him over the telephone. Jaheez says he has proof to back up his claims.

"Wafa told me he will beat me and even kill me, and said bad things about my family," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "I am now living in the capital Kabul because of these threats."

But Wafa has countered his accusations. "His claims are unfounded and unjust. Their reporting is sometimes one-sided," he said.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says that while Afghanistan's national unity government has taken some steps to support press freedom, security for journalists has not improved.

"[Even after] dissolving the commission for the verification of press offenses and adopting a law on access to information, journalists are increasingly the target of acts of violence and intimidation," a June 8 statement by the organization said.

Reporters Without Borders said President Ashraf Ghani has written a letter of commitment to support free media and journalists. "It aims to render justice and end impunity, and to reopen the cases of journalists who have been murdered in the past 10 years," the statement added.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 Afghan and foreign journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 1992.

The country is ranked 122 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index this year.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story. Najib Amir contributed reporting from Prague. Rehmatullah Afghan reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.