Thursday, March 20, 2014

Journalists Still Vulnerable to Attacks, Threats in Afghanistan

By Rabin Man Shakya

An Afghan journalist working as an interpreter for the New York Times was killed last month. Likewise, a Swedish journalist was gunned down in a brazen daytime attack in the heart of Kabul's high security diplomatic district, as the country braced for a spate of insurgent activity ahead of presidential elections next month. Swedish Radio identified the victim as Nils Horner, 51 years old, broadcaster's Asia correspodent who had just arrived in Kabul to cover the April 5 election. (The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2014).

Also, very recently, an Afghan broadcaster, Qazi Nasir Mudassir, along with two other employees of Radio Paighame Milli, were "arrested and abused by American Special Forces troops." (The New York Times, March 2, 2014)

Communists and the Taliban were chased away long time ago, but the journalists are still in jeopardy in Afghanistan which was ruled by King Zahir Shah until 1973 and it was prior to 1973 that Afghanistan had a vibrant and secured press. In broadcast journalism, for example, Kabul was much ahead of Kathmandu. Radio broadcasting kicked off in 1950 in Nepal whereas Radio Kabul began broadcasting in 1925.

But Afghanistan has been unsuccessfully pouring oil on troubled waters since Mohammad Daoud Khan, ( the son-in-law of King Zahir Khan) ousted the king in 1973 to become the president. Daoud was assassinated and ousted in a saur revolution by the Communist "Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan" in 1978. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec 27, 1979 and pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal was made the president. Later on, Dr Najibullah was replaced as president in 1986. After Taliban's foray into Kabul, Najibullah's government collapsed and the communist president was brutally tortured, killed and hanged in a Kabul street.

As a matter of fact, I was familiar with, at least, four would-be Afghan journalists at the Faculty of Journalism at the Belorussian State University (BSU) in the 1980s. Afghan students fraternity in the USSR back then was influenced and affected by the political polarization rampant in the then Peoples Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Two Afghan journalism students belonged to the Parchami faction of the Communist "Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan" and two others were supporters of Khalqi faction of the Party. Sayeed Mohammad, a Parchamist,  was one of the four would-be Afghan journalists at BSU and he used to say that he would like to work for the Afghan television.

Speaking of the Afghan media today, Article 34 of the Afghan Constitution allows for freedom of the press and of expression, and the current Mass Media Law, which came into effect in 2009, guarantees the right of citizens to obtain information and prohibits censorship. But in real life the environment for journalists and reporters is not very conducive to free journalistic activities.

In the period from 1995-2004, ten journalists were killed in Afghanistan thereby making it one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the last decade. According to Freedom House, "Despite hopes for greater press freedom, Afghan journalists continue to be targeted and threatened for reporting on political and social issues." And not without reason, Freedom House has ranked Afghanistan as "not free" in world press freedom scenario. The Afghan media organization, NAI, has recorded 71 cases in 2012 -- defined as killings, threats, beatings or arrests.

Today, media in Afghanistan is ethnically polarized so much so that even  the New York Times reported: "The television and radio dials in Afghanistan are crowded with partisan stations that glorify their leaders and fire up their followers, and many of them have seized on the ethnic debate--" (The New York Times "Afghan ethnic tensions rise in media and politics" Feb 19, 2014)

Afghanistan has already suffered a lot due to conflict which started after the Communist takeover in 1979. It cannot afford more conflicts and uncertainties.But, unfortunately, prospects for any settlements in the Afghan conflict remain dismal.

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