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Afghanistan is not a safe place for journalists

By Mirwais Jalalzai :: Afghan journo live and breathe their country’s dream of a bright future. But they also live under the shadow of its violent past.

In a country where the rule of law is weak and where violence speaks in maximum volumes, the reporting of uncomfortable truths is often met with painful and unchecked consequences.

In March this year, Sardar Ahmad, a famous broadcaster, died after being shot several times in the face and chest along side with his wife and two kids in a five star hotel In  capital Kabul.

The government was outraged by Sardar’s murder and promised a huge investigation to bring her killers to justice.

A few days before that incident, Anja photo journalist for AP was killed in southeastern Khost province.

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Kabul city was witness of another incident in March this year when two gunman open fire on a Swedish journalist in a busy neighborhood and kill him.

Afghanistan has not been a safe place for journalists last  year and this year  when violence against journalists continued to remain a major threat to media freedom, the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) said in its last report.

Afghanistan’s warlords are so powerful, and the government’s mandate is so weak, that the administration is often forced to make them ministers, senators, generals or governors to secure their loyalty, or at least stall their plotting. Even then, their allegiance is only as deep as the income their status allows them to generate from bribes and illegal deals.

Out of 169 countries in the world press freedom index, which released by reporter with out borders, Afghanistan is put low  on the list .

The government and the Taliban have both been known to play the Islamic card to invoke support from religious conservatives.

Hamid Haidari a Kabul based journalist said,  he was abducted by a group of unknown gun men from dawn town Kabul a few days back, but he rescued himself by jumping out of the  abductors car in the city center.

With changed name (Mahmob) another journalist working in east wing of Afghanistan, Ningarhar  province told us in an interview that, I was beaten by a group of unknown gun men soon after i wrote a story about the involvement of a police commander in robbery.

He said: “I wrote a story about a tribal elder’s brother. He was a police commander, but he was arrested for armed robbery, kidnap and murder. The police didn’t think I would write it, but when I publish that  story a group of  5 armed men come to my house in the mid night and beaten me by AK-47 and  knifes .

More recently, a delegation of 3 journalist  was held overnight at a police compound in south of Afghanistan after covering a story about the wrong doings of governmental forces during presidential election in southern Kandahar province.

But the government says the free press is flourishing. Afghan information and culture ministry   official says, 12  years ago we did not have a single free newspaper. Today we have around 34TV stations, more then 140 radio stations and more than 3000 written publications.”

But Zia Bumia, president of the Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists, said that attacks on the media had increased dramatically this year.

He  calls on the Afghan government  to address the issue of violence against the media by bringing perpetrators of past crimes to justice. Also, the media owners as well as journalists themselves will have to fight impunity as a fight of the people.

Afghanistan, despite having moved up 22 places to 128 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, 2014, saw a sharp increase in violence and threats against journalists by local officials, police and the Taliban.

South Asia has not been a safe place for journalists in the year 2013 as well, when violence against journalists continued to remain a major threat to media freedom, the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) said in its last report.

During that  year, 22 journalists were killed, including three in Afghanistan.

Pakistan again was the country with the largest number of journalists (10) killed in connection with their work, followed by India with 8, Afghanistan 3 and Bangladesh 1.

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