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Afghan candidates must stop intimidation of journalists

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his chief election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, must stop their supporters intimidating journalists and monitors reporting on allegations of fraud during the country's recent presidential elections, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. Since the 20 August polls, Amnesty International has received evidence of at least 20 cases of intimidation, harassment and violence against Afghan journalists and media organizations as they reported on suspected cases of electoral fraud or irregularities. Amnesty International has also received reports of intimidation and harassment against electoral workers and election monitors by Afghan government officials and affiliates of powerful candidates. "Millions of Afghan women and men cast their votes on 20 August despite the serious insecurity and the threats by the Taleban and armed groups, choosing to express their will through ballots and hoping for a better future," said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific programme. "As uncertainty around the outcome continues, harassment of journalists and monitors further erodes the credibility and legitimacy of the election and undermines the people's votes." Amnesty International has received credible reports of cases of intimidation against journalists particularly in Kabul, Herat, Baghlan, Kapisa, Mazar-e- Sharif and Parwan provinces. Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists' Association told Amnesty International that journalists who report on electoral irregularities and fraud have been accused of favouring rival candidates by supporters of Karzai and Abdullah. "All candidates, and in particular the top contenders, Karzai and Abdullah, have to show that they are committed to following Afghan law and basic human rights such as the media's freedom to report," Zarifi said. An Afghan activist who monitored the presidential elections and post-electoral processes, including ballot counting, told Amnesty International a cabinet minister had threatened him on the telephone on several occasions after he spoke to local media about electoral fraud and voting irregularities by Karzai supporters. "The minister threatened to kill me if I dare to criticize the president for fraud next time," the activist told Amnesty International. Amnesty International calls on the Afghan government to carry out independent investigation on the cases of intimidation and harassment of the journalists, electoral workers and observers and ensure that their freedom to express information is not violated. "A key role for the media is to act as a watchdog on the government, particularly at a time when there is great uncertainty and allegations of fraud swirling about the presidential elections," Zarifi said. "Unless drastic steps are taken to overcome the problems seem in this election, the upcoming parliamentary elections are likely to be worse," Zarifi said. The preliminary results from the Afghanistan's recent presidential elections, held on 20 August, show incumbent president Hamid Karzai winning 54.6 percent of the vote. However, a series of allegations of voting fraud and ballot stuffing particularly raised against President Karzai have led to an electoral crisis in the country and criticism of countries providing security and financial support for the election process. The Election Complaints Commission has ordered 10% of the votes to be recounted.