By: The Kabul Times
KABUL: During a ten-day visit to Afghanistan at the end of July, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) proposed “urgent actions” to protect its journalists and enable them to keep working safely as the NATO/ISAF forces prepare to complete their withdrawal next month and the Taliban occupation of much of the country poses an unprecedented threat to independent journalists and media.
RSF’s proposals were favorably received by journalists’ associations and by the joint government/media committee for the safety of journalists.
More than 50 media outlets (mainly local radio and TV stations) have already had to cease operations in Taliban-controlled areas. Those still operating are now broadcasting only religious content – similar to that broadcast by “The Voice of the Sharia,” the official Taliban radio station – and content imposed by the Islamist rebels. Around 100 journalists have lost their jobs, having had to flee areas seized by the rebels and seek refuge in the major cities, especially the capital, Kabul.
Despite all the dangers and the climate of tension and terror, RSF visited Afghanistan from 21 to 31 July not only to show solidarity with Afghan journalists and media at this difficult time but also and above all to propose and promote – to journalists’ associations, media representatives and government officials – a plan for the protection of journalists adapted to the current environment.
The Urgent Actions Protocol for the Protection of Journalists in Afghanistan (UAP) proposed by RSF is above all a concrete mechanism that takes account of the reality on the ground. It is based on the experience that RSF has accumulated during three decades of crisis and war, which several generations of reporters have had to face, and takes account of the specificities of a country marked by constant violence since the Soviet occupation in December 1979.
Accelerate assistance to journalists and media
RSF submitted its UAP proposal to the joint government/media committee for the safety of journalists, a coordinating body that has existed since September 2016. Consisting of senior government officials, representatives from the ministries of interior, information and culture, and defense, and representatives from journalists’ and media federations, this committee is chaired by Vice-President Sarwar Danesh. In the past five years, it has obtained significant results for the right to information, including a reduction in threats to the media and progress in the fight against impunity.
During this visit to Afghanistan, RSF met above all with representatives of media outlets, the Federation of Afghan Journalists and various journalists’ associations. As well as meetings with Vice-President Sarwar Danesh, RSF envoy Reza Moini also met with information and culture minister Mohammad Qasim Vafai Zadeh, High Council for Social and Strategic Affairs representative Wahid Omar, and National Security Council member Heshmat Natiqet. All showed keen interest in the UAP and endorsed the proposed creation of a dedicated entity with executive powers (a “subcommittee”) headed by Natiqet in order to speed up its implementation.
Zia Bumia, a journalist who is a member of the Federation of Afghan Journalists, and RSF envoy Moini, who heads the Afghanistan and Iran desk at RSF, held a joint press conference about the UAP on 30 July.
“This protocol will be on the agenda of the joint government/media committee’s next meeting,” Bumia said, thanking RSF for its “presence alongside [Afghanistan’s] journalists and media at these historic moments.”
Moini said: “The aim of this Urgent Actions Protocol is to structure, concentrate and accelerate assistance to journalists and media outlets in an even-handed and generalised manner. The international community and democratic countries must protect Afghan journalists in their own country while avoiding the ‘Syria-isation’ of Afghanistan, that is to say, a situation of inextricable and deadly chaos.”
Psychological attrition, threats to physical integrity
During this visit, RSF’s representative saw that Afghan journalists are not only exposed to physical dangers but are also suffering from psychological attrition resulting from the “information warfare” waged by the belligerents, as well as by countries such as Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.
Many journalists fear the prospect of differential treatment, that preference will be given to journalists working for foreign media with regard to visa applications, in particular. Rumours are exacerbating the fears, especially about the possibility of score-settling for past reporting. Several embassies in Kabul have been invaded by Afghan journalists seeking visas, while people-smugglers have begun inflating their prices. The concerns are particularly noticeable among women journalists.
During this visit, RSF was able to organize two trainings for 50 journalists (including 32 women) from 11 different provinces, representing 45 independent media. At the request of the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ), RSF’s partner in Afghanistan, women journalists were given specific training based on the Safety Guide for Journalists and the Handbook for Journalists during Elections, which have been translated into Persian and Pashto.
Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.