Local monitoring organisations document appalling violations of freedom of expression

Expression

According to the Afghan Journalists' Safety Committee (AJSC), 2016 was a the most dangerous year thus far for journalists and media professionals in Afghanistan. AJSC monitors threats and violations of journalists' rights, and reported a 38% increase in violence against journalists in 2016 compared to previous years. In its most recent report, AJSC noted that in 2016, 13 media professionals were killed and there were at least 88 other incidents of assault, injury and intimidation of journalists. 

Local media monitoring group - Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan - has expressed grave concern over the threats, attacks and abuse directed at female journalists, in particular, as such cases are extremely high in Afghanistan. Nai found that 82 percent of female journalists report having encountered abuse, harassment or discrimination while carrying out their work. The research also concluded that the majority of these violations often go unreported.

In monitoring reports from JanuaryFebruary and March 2017, Nai also highlighted the following incidents showing how appalling the situation for freedom of expression is in the country:

  • On 10th January 2017, an attack on the Afghan parliament resulted in the death of two journalists. 
  • Several journalists were beaten in Kabul, Herat and Faryab for reporting on politically-sensitive issues or filming protests. 
  • Media representatives faced lengthy interrogations by security forces after publishing information related to local government. The journalists were pressured to agree that they would not publish similar content in the future without the authorities' consent. 
  • Investigative journalists working to expose government corruption had their offices raided by security forces. 

Vilification of journalists by public officials is also considered a serious issue in Afghanistan. On 15th February and 21st February 2017, representatives of the the Defence Ministry insulted investigative journalists, speaking disdainfully about their work.

In a positive development, on 13th February 2017, the legislature amended the law governing the establishment of mass media enterprises. The amendment was welcomed by civil society groups as it reduces the cost to media outlets for renewing their broadcasting licenses.

Association

Taliban, Daesh and members of other armed groups are active throughout the country and continue to threaten civil society organisations and their employees, impeding their activities. The International NGO Safety Organisation recorded 6,799 such cases in January to March 2017. This figure is comprised of all incidents involving an NGO worker, including arrest, abduction, robberies, intimidation and improvised explosive devices. It includes both criminal and conflict-related incidents. 

In a recent case on 8th February 2017, six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were attacked in the Jawzan province of Afghanistan. The team was delivering livestock materials in an area south of the town of Shibergan when their convoy was attacked by unidentified assailants. Six staff members were killed and the whereabouts of two individuals remains unknown. The head of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, expressed his dismay over the murders and disappearances of his staff, stating: 

"These staff members were simply doing their duty, selflessly trying to help and support the local community. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of our colleagues killed and those unaccounted for".

The ICRC were forced to temporarily suspend operations immediately after the killings.