Peace is impossible without freedom and safety for media
As Afghanistan embarks on what could be a long peace process, senior Afghan representatives have called for the release of journalists held hostage and for more respect for the freedom and safety of media personnel.
Senate speaker Sibghatullah Mojaddedi (who heads the National Commission for Peace), information and culture minister Makhdom Raheen, Council of Ulemas spokesman Fazel Ahamad Manawi and Afghanistan’s journalists’ associations are all calling for the release of the foreign and Afghan journalists held hostage. At least three foreign reporters (two of the French, one of them Japanese) and their Afghan assistants are currently held by insurgents.
A Reporters Without Borders delegation led by the organisation’s president, Dominique Gerbaud, visited Kabul from 15 to 20 May, meeting government officials and journalists, and the French officials who are seeking the release of the France 3 TV crew that has been held in the province of Kapisa since last December.
“There is now an urgent need to create the conditions for the release of the journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The peace Jirga’s creation of a commission to examine the release of prisoners is an encouraging development. We appeal to the kidnappers to heed the calls for a rapid, negotiated outcome to these hostage situations, which have gone on too long.”
In agreement with Afghan journalists’ organisations, Reporters Without Borders appeals to the Afghan media, civil society, government and religious institutions to take action to put an end to the violence that is making it more and more difficult for both Afghan and foreign journalists to operate.
“Journalists are not soldiers or mercenaries,” Reporters Without Borders added. “They are media workers who have both the right to be protected and the duty to report the news as objectively as possible.”
When the Reporters Without Borders delegation was received by senate speaker Mojaddedi, a former president, he condemned the taking of hostages. “Such actions are contrary to Islam and humanity,” he said. “I am in favour of the unconditional release of the hostages and I ask all those in positions of responsibility to do everything they can to obtain it. I am in favour of prisoner exchanges. During the jihad period, we often carried out such exchanges.”
Council of Ulemas spokesman Manawi said: “The Council of Ulemas, as a moral authority, supports an appeal to all parties in the conflict to respect the safety of journalists and, above all, to release all hostages.” He added: “A negotiated solution must be accompanied by practical measures to combat poverty, unemployment and corruption, the underlying causes of these problems.”
Describing the current situation as “alarming,” information and culture minister Raheen assured the Reporters Without Borders representatives that the authorities were doing everything possible to obtain the release of the hostages.
“Our ministry is totally committed to helping these journalists but, as you know, hostage-taking affects everyone and our ambassador in Pakistan has been kidnapped for more than a year,” he said. “But, as for the journalists who are hostages, I can tell you both personally and on behalf of the government that we are doing all we can to get them freed.”
Freedom of expression held hostage
Three Afghans have been killed since 2007 after being abducted together with the foreign journalists they were assisting. They are Adjmal Nashqbandi, Sayed Agha and Sultan Munadi. Afghan journalists pay a high price for working for the international media. Two of them were executed by their abductors after being accused of being spies. Munadi, who worked for the New York Times, was killed in a military operation meant to free him and a New York Times correspondent.
At least 15 journalists were kidnapped by criminal groups or insurgents last year in Afghanistan. A total of 19 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 11 September 2001. Eleven of them were foreign. Five of them, including radio journalist Zakia Zaki, murdered 3 years ago, on 6 June 2007, were women.
The various Afghan journalists’ unions and associations, including the National Union Journalists of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association, the press freedom organisation NAI and independent media representatives such as Barry Salam of the Good Morning Afghanistan radio network, Mohammad Zia Bumia of the Bakhtar News agency, Danish Karokhel of Pajhwok Afghan News, Fahim Dashty of Kabul Weekly, Najiba Ayubi of the Killid Group and Rahimullah Samander of Wakht News jointly voiced their desire to end the deterioration in the press freedom situation, which they described as “desperate,” and to take action to put a stop to the murders of journalists and the accompanying impunity.
During the Reporters Without Borders meeting with these representatives, Barry Salam said: “This desperate situation must be brought to an end. As journalists and as the victims of this violence we have a duty to rally the population.” Dashty, who is also the National Union Journalists spokesman, added: “But we must explain to the government and its opponents that the lives of Afghan journalists is just as precious as those of the foreigners, otherwise public opinion will not accept us.”
Reporters Without Borders hopes that the participants in the peace process that was launched by last week’s peace Jirga (traditional assembly of the Afghan people’s representatives) in Kabul will undertake to obtain the release of all the hostages.
Inasmuch as Afghan society was broadly represented at the Jirga, the kidnappers should heed the appeals for negotiation. Reporters Without Borders hopes that the release of hostages and prisoners will help pave the way for “a fair and lasting peace that includes respect for freedom of expression.”
Several of the Afghan representatives referred to the Koran when condemning hostage-taking. “This is a form of extortion that involves stealing a person’s soul,” one said. “No human being, regardless of their race, colour, gender, language or religion, should be deprived of their freedom in this manner.”
For more information about press freedom in Afghanistan, read the report: “Press freedom in free-fall in run-up to presidential election.”