RSF asks Afghan govt to ensure journalists’ protection
KABUL (Pajhwok): Reporters Without Borders or Reporters sans frontières (RSF) called on authorities to do everything possible to protect journalists and media outlets in Afghanistan, where threats and attacks by the jihadi group Islamic State have been added to those by the Taliban, creating new information “black holes” in several provinces.
Although countries such as the United States, Iran, Norway and Qatar are “normalizing” their relations with the Taliban and certain Afghan politicians are sitting with them at the negotiating table, the Taliban have been intensifying armed attacks on civilians and openly threatening freedom of information, a statement released by the RSF said Tuesday.
The Taliban, and now members of Islamic State, are sowing terror in several northeastern provinces including Badakhshan, Nangarhar, Baghlan and Nuristan, the statement added. Freedom of information in these provinces has gone from being limited to non-existent, giving rise to new information black holes.
Media outlets have been the targets of armed attacks. They include Radio Donya Novin in Charikar (Parwan province) and the regional bureaux of the independent Afghan news agency Pajhwok and the US government-funded Voice of America (VOA) in Jalalabad (Nangarhar province) on 12 June, when at least two VOA journalists were injured. Several sources described this as “the first Islamic State action” in Afghanistan.
Fighting has been so intense in some regions, especially in Badakhshan and Nangarhar that journalists have been forced to stop working altogether and entire villages have fallen under rebel control. These provinces now rank alongside Helmand in the south and Khost in the east as regions where the Taliban have terrorized the media.
“Nangarhar has always been a violent province but the situation has become even worse in recent months,” said a journalist in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Jalalabad has eight radio stations, three TV stations and four newspapers employing a total of 60 journalists, of whom 20 are women.
According to the information gathered by Reporters Without Borders, six of the 22 municipalities in Nangarhar province are now under the control of armed groups that say they are affiliated to Islamic State. The situation is no better to the north, where Reporters Without Borders spoke to Shir Mohammad Jahesh, the head of local TV station Tanvir in Baghlan province.
“The fighting hadn’t been expected to intensify in the north, especially in Badakhshan, a relatively calm area, but the Taliban presence is panicking the population, including journalists, obviously,” Jahesh said. “There is now a great deal of violence in the region and our work is directly influenced by these armed groups, who ask us to be ‘neutral’ although in practice they want us to accept their rules.”
The Taliban and other armed groups are unfortunately not the only ones who target the media. Warlords, local politicians and government forces also help to create a climate of fear designed to keep journalists at a distance, especially during military operations.
Reporters Without Borders asked presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi, who is a former journalist, about protecting journalists and the need to combat impunity for crimes of violence against them.
“President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi and the Afghan government are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of information in Afghanistan,” Hashemi said. “Our country is at war, a war that was imposed on us.”
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