Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the recent arrests of two journalists in Afghanistan and the “harassment” to which the Pajhwok Afghan News agency is being subjected by the authorities.
In a statement on July 9, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog urged the Afghan authorities and security officials to respect the country’s press law “when taking action against ‘rumors and fake news.’”
“It is vital that the media should be able to do their work without impediment, in order to inform the public what is being done to combat corruption and any shortcomings,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Afghanistan desk.
Journalist Mahboboalah Hakimi of Radio Bayan (Word) was arrested on July 1 by agents of the National Department of Security (NDS) for allegedly insulting President Ashraf Ghani by calling him an “unbeliever” in a Facebook post, RSF said.
Just before his arrest, Hakimi denied being the author of the post and said his Facebook account had been hacked.
But he later appeared in a video recorded by the NDS in which he confessed to being responsible for the post in question and apologized to the president.
After being released on July 8, he said he had been tortured and forced to make a confession.
The journalist was arrested again by the NDS the next day.
Another journalist, Farough jan Mangol, was detained by NDS agents for questioning after his home was searched, according to RSF.
Mangol, a correspondent for the Reuters news agency, was then released with NDS agents saying his arrest had been a mistake.
According to RSF, Afghanistan’s biggest news agency has been harassed since June 22, when it reported that 32 ventilators intended for coronavirus patients had been stolen and sold to Pakistan.
When Pajhwok Afghan News’s director, Danish Karokhel, was invited by a parliamentary commission for what was described as a consultation, he was subjected to a “full-blown interrogation” in which Health Ministry representatives took part and the news agency was accused of acting “against national security.”
In a tweet, Vice-President Amrullah Saleh accused Pajhwok of lying, saying said that “NO ventilator is missing.”
However, no formal action has been taken against the news agency, whose “damning report was extensively documented,” according to RSF.
Under the press law, complaints against the media and journalists must be handled by the Commission for the Verification of Press Offenses, which has to decide whether to transfer them to the courts.
“Neither parliament, nor the vice-president nor the NDS has the right to directly summon, arrest, or threaten journalists,” RSF said.
Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.