Freedom of expression under attack
By: Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam
Over the past decade, the freedom of expression and media has been one of the major joint achievements of the Afghan government and its international partners. This is a gain everyone appreciates and talks about.
The Afghan government and its international partners talk about securing the joint achievements that remain reversible and fragile. Lately the freedom of expression has been under attack -- an issue has to be addressed strategically.
Afghan journalists and activists are under extreme risk and there is no guarantee of their safety and protection. Serving democracy and freedom during last one decade, tens of Afghan journalists, writers and social activists were either killed during the war, by pro-government elements or by insurgents.
Yet there are not any solid statistics of social activists’ fatalities because this issue has not been taken seriously. But according to NAI, an independent Afghan media watchdog, pro-government elements are involved in majority of violations against media and journalists in Afghanistan.
Lately a number of journalists and social activists have either been arrested or threatened to stop their activities. Life is not easy for a journalist and social activist anymore. In absence of access to information law and the presence of a very inequitable law Afghan media and social activist can be threatened, questioned and impeached at any moment by the Afghan authorities.
On a regular basis here are ongoing cases against media in the media commission, which is established by the government. So far majority of Afghan media outlets have been impeached by the commission and questioned.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) an institution, which plays an absolutely crucial role in protecting the rights of all Afghans were also targeted by Afghan government and their activities have been blocked by senior politicians. In December 2011 including Ahmad Nader Nadery an outspoken human rights activist, President Hamid Karzai removed three commissioners of the commission
Nadery was removed formally because of his mandates had expired. But his removal was linked to his outspokenness about electoral fraud in the 2009presidential elections and his involvement in preparing the, yet to be released, AIHRC conflict-mapping report documenting war crimes in Afghanistan from 1978to 2001.
In June 2013 despite broad disagreement of the Afghan civil society organization, United Nations Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and other organizations the Afghan president renewed mandate of four commissioners and appointed five new commissioners of the AIHRC. But Mr. Nadery’s mandate was not renewed. There are serious concerns about some individuals appointed in the AIHRC, but the government has ignored all international commitment and demands and replaced some of very active commoners with some contradictory figures.
The ICG report titled “Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition” was released on 6 October 2012. It discusses the weaknesses of Afghanistan’s political and electoral system and calls for urgent attention and reforms. The report was rejected by the Afghan government and the organization was threatened for prosecution.
Early this year the government also condemned and rejected a UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) report on corruption in Afghanistan and called the act a political pressure on the Afghan government.
In June 2013 head of Integrity Watch Organization, a non-governmental organization over sighting transparency, was summoned by the Supreme Court about their survey on corruption in the judiciary system.
Early July 2013 the Supreme Court of Afghanistan denied the latest report by Transparency International which called the judiciary institutions of Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt organizations in the Afghan government and the court accused the organization for working under apolitical agenda and the organization is summoned by the Supreme Court. But every Afghan citizen can confirm the report of widespread corruption in the judicial sector of Afghanistan.
While tens of corrupt officials, who has been accused of millions of USD corruption are living free. On July 5th Afghan Attorney General Office arrested Mr. Abdurahman Sakhizada, an Afghan writer and anti-corruption activist in accusation of writing a disclosure article, where he discovered corruption in the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOO), a presidential decree based institution over sighting Afghan government. Mr. Sakhizada was released after nearly two weeks, his father who is a police officer, said that his son has been tortured in the custody.
However the issue of brain drain has been widely debated in Afghan media and on December 31st BBC Farsi investigative report shows that nearly 40% of Afghan diplomats have not returned home after completion of their assignments abroad. But on 14th July Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan issued a statement rejecting The New York Times report titled “As Uncertainty Reigns Back Home, Many Afghan Envoys Decline to Return” dated 12 July 2013.
The harsh statement called the report “irresponsible act and unprofessional journalism” and asked from Kabul-based NYT correspondence for clarifications. Such pressures continue on a daily basis at all levels and the example I have brought here were a few of those.
Afghans have not fought with the Taliban and terrorists to secure western countries, but they fought for the word of freedom and the freedom of expression and women come at the top of the reason of our fight and sacrifice. Now democracy and freedom become a mutual interest and benefit of Afghanistan and the international community. But there are increased concerns pressures will increase.
The corrupt officials, drug smugglers, the warlord and mafia will continue to threat journalists and social activist to keep them shut. And some government officials will continue the misuse of their power. But the question is what the international community does to secure their biggest achievements? This is freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
This fact should not be ignored by the world community and they should closely work with the Afghan people to secure theses gains. Otherwise the tremendous joint gains have made by Afghanistan and its intentional partners will be forfeited
Hamdam is a social activist for promoting peace, justice and human rights. He is founder and Chairman of Afghan Anti-Corruption Network.
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