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RSF sounds alarm on World Press Freedom Day

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(Last Updated On: May 3, 2021)

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) on Monday sounded the alarm about the plight of the media and the future for journalism in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued by the RSF, the organizations said: “The press freedom situation is disastrous in Afghanistan 14 months after the Taliban and United States signed a peace accord on 29 February 2020, and eight months after the Taliban and Afghan government began peace talks.”

At least 20 journalists and media workers have been the victims of targeted attacks in the past six months and eight, including four women, have been killed. Around 30 others have received death threats in connection with their journalistic work, RSF stated.

“The climate of terror keeps on growing and particularly affects women journalists, whose situation was already precarious.

“The precarity of Afghan women journalists has increased not only as a result of the physical dangers but also as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown,” CPAWJ director Farida Nekzad said.

“At least 20% of them have lost their jobs or have been forced to take unpaid leave by their employers.”

UNAMA also called for the campaign of violence against journalists and media workers in the country to end.

“Journalists must be protected, and those who commit acts of violence and murder against workers in the sector must be brought to justice,” UNAMA said in a statement.

“We recognise that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk. The impunity for such crimes remains a serious challenge and creates a chilling environment, limiting the media sector’s ability to operate freely.

“Afghanistan’s free and independent media sector has been hard won. Many Afghans have sacrificed their time, their energy, their money and, for some, their lives to build this crucial public good. We pledge our continued support in defence of a free and independent Afghan media. It must be defended,” the statement read.

Afghanistan’s chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah also acknowledged the importance of the day and tweeted: “While I am celebrating the remarkable achievements of Afghanistan’s media and our courageous journalists, I also recognize and remember their sacrifices in defending and shaping a vibrant free press.

“As always I am committed to a free press and access to information,” he said.

The wider international community in Afghanistan also issued a statement on reaffirming commitment to supporting Afghan journalists and the media sector.

“The UK remains committed to supporting Afghanistan. A free and independent media and a strong media sector is an essential part of an inclusive and representative Afghanistan. As we transition to a new chapter of international support for Afghanistan, as Afghanistan’s international friends and partners, we reaffirm our commitment to stand by its journalists and the media sector”

“As Afghanistan’s international friends and partners, we reaffirm our commitment to stand by its journalists and the media sector.

“We continue to support Afghan journalists, to stand up for their rights, and to oppose undue restrictions on their work,” the statement read.

The international community also condemned the campaign of violence against journalists and media professionals and said this “must end”.

“Journalists must be protected, and those who commit acts of violence and murder against workers in the sector must be brought to justice.

We recognise that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk. The impunity for such crimes remains a serious challenge and creates a chilling environment, limiting the media sector’s ability to operate freely,” read the statement.

“Afghanistan’s free and independent media sector has been hard won. Many Afghans have sacrificed their time, their energy, their money and, for some, their lives to build this crucial public good. We pledge our continued support in defence of a free and independent Afghan media. It must be defended.”

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Afghan envoy to UN cancels speech amid uncertainty over seat

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Afghanistan did not have a representative addressing the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly in New York, after Ghulam Isaczai, the UN envoy under the former government, withdrew on Sunday.

According to UN officials, Isaczai was due to speak on Monday.

Isaczai had been scheduled to address the final day of the general assembly.

Afghanistan’s UN mission in New York posted on Twitter that Isaczai decided not to speak “to preserve the national interests, preserve the seat of Afghanistan in the United Nations and to continue long-term cooperation with United Nations and Security Council on main issues.”

It added that Isaczai would continue “activities as usual” at the global body.

IEA Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week asked to address the gathering of world leaders and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s new ambassador to the UN.

But Muttaqi was not permitted to do so as the credentials committee has not yet met to discuss the issue.

When the IEA last ruled between 1996 and 2001, the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.

Eventual UN acceptance of the ambassador of the IEA would be an important step in their bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the IEA’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that international recognition of the IEA was not currently under consideration.

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Pilgrims from around the world gather in Kerbala for Arbaeen

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Masses gathered in Kerbala on Tuesday for the religious pilgrimage of Arbaeen and visited the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas.

In a normal year, up to 20 million mostly Shi’ite Muslims take part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Kerbala to commemorate Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was slain in battle in 680 by the Muslim Caliph of the day.

In 2020 and due to the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Iraqi authorities had barred entry to most foreign pilgrims, including some three million Iranians.

“Last year we were prevented from performing the pilgrimage. But now thank God, it was granted to us”, an Iranian pilgrim, Hamid Muqaddam said in Kerbala.

This year, Iraqi authorities allowed a limited number of pilgrims from abroad to enter Iraq and attend Arbaeen.

On Monday, Iraqi authorities recorded 2,447 new cases of coronavirus infections and 32 deaths.

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Pentagon leaders to face Afghanistan reckoning in Congress

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

President Joe Biden’s top military leaders are expected to face some of the most contentious hearings in memory this week over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) back in power.

The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military will hold hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on mistakes that Biden’s administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.

That will follow similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to praise American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.

Austin is expected to “be frank about the things we could have done better,” a U.S. official told Reuters.

That will also certainly include the U.S. military’s last drone strike before withdrawing, which the Pentagon acknowledges killed 10 civilians, most of them children – and not the Daesh (ISIS-K) militants it thought it was attacking.

Ahead of the hearing, Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, wrote to Austin with a long list of requests for information, including on the August 26 airport bombing, equipment left behind and the administration’s future counter-terrorism plans.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, said lawmakers would also press about “a lack of coordination and a real plan for how we were going to get all the Afghans who helped us out of the country.”

“I don’t know if we’ll get answers. But questions will be raised again about why we got to the point that we did in Afghanistan,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.

McKenzie called the drone strike a “tragic mistake,” one that critics say raises hard questions about America’s ability to properly identify counter-terrorism targets in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal.

But McKenzie and other U.S. officials will be under pressure to defend the Biden administration’s plans to address future counter-terrorism threats from groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State by flying in drones or commandos from overseas.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of downplaying the risks associated with that so-called “over the horizon” capability.

Separately, Milley could face intense questioning over an account in a new book alleging he bypassed civilian leaders to place secret calls to his Chinese counterpart over concerns about former President Donald Trump.

Milley’s office pushed back against the report in the book, saying the calls he made were coordinated within the Pentagon and across the U.S. government.

Senator Marco Rubio has called for his resignation. Senator Rand Paul said he should be prosecuted if the account in the book was true. But some of the greatest concern has come from lawmakers in the House, where Milley will testify on Wednesday.

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