Afghanistan ranked the most dangerous country for journalists in 2018 as peace talks progress

Space required for civil society and women's activists as peace talks progress 

On 28th November 2018, at the international donor Conference on Afghanistan in Geneva, President Ashraf Ghani presented the updated peace plan in an attempt to reassert the Afghan government’s role in a stalled peace process with the Taliban. The peace agreement proposes that the "Afghan Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society". The plan foresees five “phases” of consultations with various domestic and international actors involved in the current armed conflict,  militarily and politically, and five years of implementation. 

Civil society has been allocated some advisory role in the update peace plan. In addition to the 12-member negotiating team that comprises three women and a former deputy Taliban minister, a new “peace advisory board” of nine committees has been planned, which include a committee of "Civil Society and Cultural Committee". The role of that advisory board will be "to input into the negotiations as they happen", according to President Ghani's proposal. Previously civil society called for an inclusive peace process guaranteeing the "active involvement of representatives of civil society, political parties, victim groups, women and youth in policy-making and relevant executive bodies" responsible for the peace process.  

On 4th December 2018, during a consultations between the UN and women's organisations in Afghanistan, as part of "The Global Open Days" events focused  on women, peace, and security, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called for women's meaningful participation in the Afghan peace process, stating

 “Women’s participation in peace discussions is necessary and vital to ending the conflict and ensuring long-lasting stability. Women must be ready to actively participate in and contribute to the peace process, and they must be represented in the negotiating team and consultative bodies on peace.”

During the meeting women's rights activists "stressed how failure to respect, protect and promote women’s human rights and the continued discrimination women face within their communities and families limit their ability to participate in resolving conflict in Afghanistan", as reported by the UN

Expression

Since the beginning of 2019, at least three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, as the country was ranked the world's deadliest for journalists in 2018 (see below):  

  • On 5th January 2019, a citizen journalist and government worker, Javid Noori, was reportedly killed in a summary execution by the Taliban as he was stopped at a roadblock while en route on a bus in Farah province. Noori worked for the Farah regional government and was also hosting two programmes on Radio Neshat. The Taliban claimed in a statement responsibility for his murder stating he was arrested and killed for his work with the government saying: "An important enemy of the enemy was shot dead in Farah city".  
  • On 5th February 2019, two radio journalists were shot dead in Takhar province when unidentified armed men entered Radio Hamseda in Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province and opened fire. The victims were identified as the reporter and acting news editor Shafiq Arya and presenter Rahimullah Rahmani. According to the provincial police chief, both were killed during a life programme. No group has claimed responsibility. The Provincial police chief Rashid Bashir told media that an investigation was under way. In a response, Amnesty International called on the Afghan authorities to "ensure safety and protection for all so they can work freely and without fear" and to bring perpetrators to justice. 

Additionally, in December 2018, at least two radio stations have been attacked: 

  • On 23rd December 2018, in Nuristan province, Radio Elina was attacked allegedly by armed men. According to RSF, the station director said they “destroyed part of the equipment, including the transmitter, abducted one of the station’s journalists and took two computers.” The journalist  was released a few hours later.
  • On 26th December 2018, radio station Nedai Sobh, based in Herat province was hit by an RPG-2 anti-tank grenade, reportedly from a close range, but no harm to staff has been reported. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid apparently denied the group was responsible. However the radio station's director believe it was the Taliban as he claimed that the radio station staff have received previously threats over their programmes: “they [Taliban] had already threatened our staff on several occasions for broadcasting music and women’s voices”, he told the RSF.

Afghanistan - the world's deadliest country for journalists

During the year 2018, Afghanistan was ranked the deadliest country for journalists, with 13 journalists and 2 media workers killed, most of them in attacks targeting the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). As the CIVICUS Monitor reported, at least nine of the journalists were killed in a single incident during twin bombings in Kabul on 30th April 2018, claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh). Impunity for attacks against media workers have been rampant, as Afghanistan ranked sixth on the CPJ's Impunity Index, which ranks states with the worst records of prosecuting those responsible for killing journalists.

Journalists and media workers have been subjected to continuous threats, abuse and attacks implicating non-state armed groups (such as ISIL and Taliban) and Afghan government officials, often for reporting and speaking out against corruption, civilian casualties, political and security issues. The Afghan media rights watchdog, Nai Supporting Afghanistan Open Media, documented a total of 80 incidents against media and journalists across Afghanistan in 2018, while the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee reported 121 cases of violence against media during 2018. Both the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee and NaI records include attacks, threats, killing, detention for interrogation of journalists, physical assaults of journalists by the security forces during assignments, complaints of lack of access to information and other types of violations. Data recorded by the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee attribute the majority of cases of violence against journalists and media workers to the Taliban and ISIL with 50 cases; as individual affiliated with the government are ranked second, as they were implicated in 44 cases. 

Regarding the protection gaps for media workers, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, told the news outlet VOA:

"The Afghan government cannot provide security for journalists. Media organisations are also not mature enough to ensure the safety of their journalists." 

Peaceful Assembly and Association

Extremist armed groups active in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), continue to deliberately target members of the Shia-Hazara religious community while exercising their legitimate human right to freedom of peaceful assembly: 

On 12th November 2018, at least six people have been killed and 20 others wounded after a suicide bomber targeted a Shia-Hazara protest in Kabul. Hundreds of members of the ethnic Shia-Hazara community had gathered in Kabul from the previous day to demand government step up actions to provide security and humanitarian aid in response to the ongoing Taliban assaults in three predominantly ethnic Hazara-populated districts of Ghazni province in South of Afghanistan. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Daesh), claimed responsibility for the attack on its website stating it targeted a gathering of Shiites, as reported by media sources. ISIL's statement indicates that the deliberate target of the attack were persons belonging to a specific ethnic and religious community.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, at least 80 people were killed and more than 200 injured during a suicide bombing attack claimed by ISIL that targeted Hazara peaceful demonstration  in Kabul on 23rd June 2016. 

In a separate development, prior to the 12th November attack, there has been a reported attempt by the authorities to stop the protesters marching. The Kabul police chief told local media that the "demonstrators were violating the law as they had not informed police of their planned action ahead of time". However, protesters continued with their march. 

Another peaceful assembly has been attacked in Kabul on 20th November 2018, resulting in at least 55 people being killed and more than 60 people injured, according to the UN. A suicide bomber exploded its devise at an event facility where religious leaders and their followers had gathered peacefully to mark a day of special religious significance. According to the organisers of the event reported by the media, around 2,000 people were present during the attack. No group has immediately claim responsibility, whereas the Taliban reportedly condemned the attack in a WhatsApp message.The attack has been condemned widely by the international community. 

The UN Secretary-General reminded that such "deliberate targeting of civilians is a clear violation of international humanitarian law".