The Afghan authorities must take urgent steps to provide journalists with greater protection, said Amnesty International on World Press Freedom Day, following a year of spiralling threats, intimidation, harassment, and violent attacks against the country’s media workers.
At least 11 journalists were killed in 2020 in targeted attacks in Afghanistan, with four more reportedly killed this year. Nearly all the killings, invariably carried out by unidentified gunmen, have gone uninvestigated. Dozens of others have been injured, while journalists routinely receive threats, intimidation and harassment because of their work. Faced with this dire situation and with multiple journalist ‘hit lists’ in open circulation, many journalists are fleeing the country.
The Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists, a body established by the Afghan government in 2016 to address the security risks faced by media workers, has made limited efforts to stem the violence.
This lack of safety and security threatens not only lives, but the future of a free and independent media in AfghanistanSamira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International
“For simply doing their job, Afghanistan’s journalists put themselves at grave risk every single day. The violent cycle of killings, harassment and intimidation is escalating, but this has not been matched by a robust counter-response from the authorities. The level of protection afforded to journalists has been woefully inadequate,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
“This lack of safety and security threatens not only lives, but the future of a free and independent media in Afghanistan. The Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists must start taking effective action, starting by showing that attacks against journalists cannot and should not happen with impunity. The Joint Committee should launch thorough, effective and transparent investigations into killings and ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials.”
Amnesty International spoke to three Afghan journalists about their experiences and what support they have received.
Muhammad Tariq Azim, a video-journalist for more than a decade and current head of Sputnik News Agency’s Afghanistan office, said: “Media work in Afghanistan looks like a battlefield. Targeted killings and assassinations of journalists and the silencing of freedom of expression are the most serious concerns for Afghan journalists.”
“Various plans and policies have been proposed by organizations supporting journalists, but the practical steps to expedite protection for journalists are not there,” he said.
Efforts to protect journalists up to now have been ad hoc and support is not equally accessible to all. Those Amnesty International spoke to said that the support from the authorities is often offered based on personal contacts or ethnic ties. Access to information about the work of the Joint Committee and its impact in protecting journalists is also very limited.
Frishta Aslamzadeh, a reporter with Zan TV, said: “The protection mechanism for journalists working in local media is very weak. I do not have access to any kind of support. However, when you see the international media outlets, they have better systems in place for their employees.”
“Some protection mechanisms put in place are not accessible or provide support in a selective manner to the journalists. There is dire need of protection for journalists and provision of equal attention to all journalists and media workers,” she said.
With the lack of protection from the authorities, journalists have been reliant on the support of local NGOs.
Baes Hayat, a journalist for almost 10 years who now works for Ariana News, said: “The only protection support I have received is that the Journalists Safety Committee [a local NGO] has provided to some media outlets with armoured jackets and helmets, and no further measures have been taken to help and protect journalists.”
For further information about the Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists, see here.