Ashiqullah Behroz

Freedom Of Speech in Afghanistan after Taliban

18.05.2016

FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN AFGHANISTAN AFTER THE FALL OF THE TALIBAN REGIME

Summary

The article presents the identification of the role of Mass Media as an integral part of Afghan people in all its aspects, from economics to politics and culture has been identified. The investigation dealt with the analysis of freedom of speech in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime. The development and challenges of Mass Media in Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban regime is synthesized.

 

Introduction:

            Afghanistan is known as the crossroads of Asia.  It has a population of approximately 31 million people, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world [1]. It is bordered in the north by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, in the west by Iran, in the south by Pakistan, and China to the east. For more than 2000 years, this area has been the site of ancient trade routes collectively known as the Silk Road. Always an important link between east and west, Afghanistan remains a critical and dynamic place on earth [2]. Afghanistan has never before had more news outlets, with 200 print media, 44 television stations, 141 radio stations and at least eight news agencies. On the other hand, in the past decade it has witnessed growing violence against news organizations and journalists. Unions and organizations that support open media have recorded hundreds of cases of such violence between 2001 and 2011. Afghanistan’s media has grown rapidly since the fall of the Taliban regime by the hands of US-led coalition forces in 2001. During the Taliban government (1996-2001), there was only one radio station called Voice of Sharia. It was used to broadcast religious programs, Jihadi speeches and official propaganda. However, their end of government provided Afghans the opportunity to practice their freedom of speech by establishing numerous media outlets with strong financial and moral support from international community. As a result, in 2012 Afghanistan had 44 television channels, more than 100 radio stations and around 500 daily newspapers, weekly publications and monthly magazines [3]. By 2015, Afghanistan has 174 radio stations, 68 private television stations, 22 state-owned provincial channels, and RTA, all adding up to a media juggernaut [4].

 

Main body:

            According to Constitution (Article Thirty-Four: "Freedom of Expression") every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of above mentioned constitution. Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission of state authorities. Directives related to the press, radio and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by Law [5].

            Before 2001, when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, there was no media; after 2001, Afghanistan was the news making country in the world. This platform welcomed many international outlets to send their journalists in Afghanistan. This increase in media work in Afghanistan came with many sacrifices of International and national journalists [6].

            According to the Afghan non-governmental organization Nai, the 10-year conflict has left 22 journalists dead, 6 of whom were women, and seen 23 journalists kidnapped. Nai’s figures for violence and intimidation against journalists runs into the hundreds [7]. The violence against journalists has gone alarmingly high in 2014 - 60% increase during the first six months of this year compared to the same time period of the last year indicates that the scope of journalistic activities is becoming increasingly limited in the country. As of the beginning of 2014 to 1.7.2014 a total 68 cases of violence against journalists have been recorded and investigated of which five murders and the rest include verbal and physical assault and different types of threats. In the first six months of 2013, only 41 cases were recorded by the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee. The main causes of increased violence against media workers include election atmosphere and the ensuing insecurity, the growing indifference of the government towards the safety of journalists, and impunity of the culprits. Unfortunately, currently no specific laws that make violence against journalists punishable exist in Afghanistan.

            Lack of interest on the part of Afghan government in following up with the cases of violence and murder of journalists also contributes to escalation of violence against media workers. On the other hand, the fading attention of the international community to freedom of expression and media in Afghanistan has emboldened the powerful, corrupt and anti-freedom of expression elements within and outside the government to use force and violence against journalists and increase challenges ahead of freedom of expression in the country. 

            Killing of media workers also increased; the first murder of a journalist this year was the mysterious case of The New York Times reporter Noor Ahmad Noori in Helmand province. The sequence was followed by the death of Shahid Nayeem, who worked as a producer with Radio Nawa in Kabul. He lost his life in a targeted Taliban suicide attack while he was heading to office. The subsequent murder of Sardar Mohammad with his three family members in the five star hotel Serena in Kabul (Taliban attack) shocked the both the journalist community in Afghanistan and outside the country. Sardar Ahmad was one of the most famous and senior journalists of Afghanistan.

            Nils Horner, a Swedish journalist was working on the case of attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul in March, when he was shot dead by unidentified individuals in one of the safest parts of Kabul city, Wazir Akbar Khan area. In less than one month after Mr. Horner’s murder, a German journalist Anja Niedringhaus, who was on a visit to Khost province to cover elections, was killed by a policeman while her colleague Kathy Gannon was seriously wounded.

            Sources of threat; of the total of 68 cases of violence against journalists during the first half of 2014, government officials and security forces account for 63.23% of the cases which again shows the highest rate of involvement of the government in violence and intimidation against journalists. Similarly, unidentified individuals account for 16.17%, the Taliban account for 11.76% and local powerful figures account for 8.82% of the cases of violence against journalists. International journalists more targeted; the murder of the Swedish journalist Nils Horner who was killed by unidentified individuals in Kabul followed by German journalist Anja Niedringhaus’s murder by policeman in Khost province raised many concerns over safety of international journalists. The increased threat to international journalists has resulted in a diminished presence of foreign journalists in Afghanistan contributing to poor coverage of Afghanistan’s issues for worldwide audiences. This is a harmful phenomenon for Afghanistan because decreased news coverage of Afghanistan will contribute to isolation of Afghanistan from international community’s agenda [8].

            Journalists have recently faced more incidents of violence than ever. For Afghanistan’s media and journalists November was an easy month to pass. Mr. Jawed Yosofi, a journalist for Arzo private TV canal, was on his way to home in an evening when unidentified armed men stopped and stabbed him in Kabul. He was critically injured. The men fled the scene. They have neither been identified nor captured yet. In central province of Ghazni, another journalist has been threatened to death for publishing the picture of a provincial council .member. The journalists’ community has expressed their grave concerns ‘On the other hand, quite contrary to its expected constitutional role as supporter and protector of journalists .rights, the Ministry of Information and Culture has turned to a pressing force against journalists and media Recently Etelaat-e-Roz daily published a critical article in the form of a satire. The Minister of Information and .Culture registered a file against the daily and referred it to legal and judicial organs Media Watch at Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan has registered over 500 cases of violence against journalists in the past 13 years. Forty-seven journalists lost their lives during this period. Their killers are free to move and the government has not ruled any of their cases. Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan calls .on the national unity government to take seriously and rule judicially all of the cases of violence against journalists. It should arrest, try, and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the effective laws of Afghanistan .Meanwhile; terrorist attacks in major cities of Afghanistan reached a record high in November. Just in the second half of November, terrorists conducted over ten suicide attacks in Kabul and other cities across the country they killed and injured scores of fellow citizens. It was in this context that Nai Supporting Open Media and Afghanistan’s National Journalists’ Union called on journalists and social media users to exercise caution in .reporting such events so that they do not turn to loud speakers for terrorists [9].

 

Conclusion

Looking at the pre-2001 Afghanistan and lack of basic human rights, the Afghanistan media has come a long way. Despite the fact that Afghanistan people, throughout their hundred years of history, have always relied on state run media and traditional ways of communication, one has to applaud the progress it had made in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The existence of hundreds of media outlets mean everyone tries to reach a broader range of audience and influence them to watch, listen or read their work. With all the accomplishments Afghanistan media has had in past fourteen years, it faces some daunting challenges. Plentiful obstacles still deter the continuous flow of communication to the public and therefore making freedom of speech vulnerable. Since there is still a vicious war going on in Afghanistan, the extreme challenge Afghanistan journalists face is how to survive in a society full of thrones and traps. Taliban consider journalists enemy and often label them as Western spies. On the other hand, warlords in the government and conservative religious clerics along with religious councils are also playing as active pressure groups who critically watch everything from newscasts to soap operas. For them, it is easy to name a journalist infidel and call his journalistic work anti Islam. These allegations can put one in jail for unidentified period of time.

 

References

1)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan

2)  http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org/page/general-information

3)  https://www.dissidentblog.org/en/articles/freedom-speech-afghanistan-decade-after-fall-taliban-regime

4)  Zach Warren, Afghanistan in 2014: A Survey of the Afghan People (San Francisco: Asia Foundation, 2015), 117.

5)  http://moj.gov.af/en/page/1684

6)  http://www.ajsc.af/index.php/multimedia/video-gallery

7)http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/2768/en/afghanistan:-each.time-a-journalist-is-killed,-the-truth-dies-with-them#sthash.gQWRTu8p.dpuf

8)  http://ajsc.af/reports/june2014.pdf

9)  http://nai.org.af/files/documents/monthly/Nai%20Monthly%20Report%20English.pdf





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