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Wave of threats and killings has sent ‘chilling message’ to Afghan media

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(Last Updated On: April 1, 2021)

Taliban forces are deliberately targeting journalists and other media workers, including women, in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said this week.

“A wave of threats and killings has sent a chilling message to the Afghan media at a precarious moment as Afghans on all sides get set to negotiate free speech protections in a future Afghanistan,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director.

“By silencing critics through threats and violence, the Taliban have undermined hopes for preserving an open society in Afghanistan,” she said.

In a statement issued by the rights watchdog, HRW said threats and attacks against journalists across the country have increased sharply since talks began between the Afghan government and the Taliban, heightening concerns about preserving freedom of expression and the media in any peace settlement.

Human Rights Watch has found that Taliban commanders and fighters have engaged in a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence against members of the media in areas where the Taliban have significant influence, as well as in Kabul.

Those making the threats often have an intimate knowledge of a journalist’s work, family, and movements and use this information to either compel them to self-censor, leave their work altogether, or face violent consequences, the statement read.

HRW said provincial and district-level Taliban commanders and fighters also make oral and written threats against journalists beyond the areas they control. Journalists say that the widespread nature of the threats has meant that no media workers feel safe.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 46 members of the Afghan media between November 2020 and March 2021, seeking information on the conditions under which they work, including threats of physical harm.

Those interviewed included 42 journalists in Badghis, Ghazni, Ghor, Helmand, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Wardak, and Zabul provinces and four who had left Afghanistan due to threats.

In a number of cases that Human Rights Watch documented, Taliban forces detained journalists for a few hours or overnight.

In several cases they or their colleagues were able to contact senior Taliban officials to intercede with provincial and district-level commanders to secure their release, indicating that local commanders are able to take decisions to target journalists on their own without approval from senior Taliban military or political officials, HRW stated.

Taliban officials at their political office in Doha, Qatar, have denied that their forces threaten the media and say that they require only that journalists respect Islamic values.

But Taliban commanders throughout Afghanistan have threatened journalists specifically for their reporting. The commanders have considerable autonomy to carry out punishments, including targeted killings, read the statement.

Women journalists, especially those appearing on television and radio, face particular threats.

The recent wave of violent attacks has driven several prominent women journalists to give up their profession or leave Afghanistan altogether.

Human Rights Watch found that female reporters may be targeted not only for issues they cover but also for challenging perceived social norms prohibiting women from being in a public role and working outside the home.

Journalists outside the country’s main cities are especially vulnerable to attacks because they are more exposed and lack even the minimal protection that a larger Afghan media, government, and international presence provides.

However, as the fighting has increasingly encroached on major cities, these have offered decreasing protection to journalists seeking safety from the violence in their home districts, the statement read.

A journalist covering the fighting in Helmand province told Human Rights Watch that one of his sources told him the Taliban were looking for him and he should lie low.

“The majority of Afghan journalists feel intimidated and threatened,” he said. “All the journalists are scared because everyone feels like they could be next.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Taliban leadership to immediately cease intimidation, threats, and attacks against journalists and other media workers.

They should urgently provide clear, public directives to all Taliban members to end all forms of violence against journalists and other media workers, and intimidation, harassment, and punishment of Afghans who have criticized Taliban policies, the statement read.

The Taliban leadership should also explicitly reject violence against women in the media, the rights watchdog stated.

In addition, HRW called on the United Nations and governments supporting the Intra-Afghan Negotiations to publicly press the Taliban leadership to adopt these recommendations, and provide increased support, including protection, to independent media organizations and journalists in Afghanistan, especially those facing threats.

“It’s not enough for Taliban officials in Doha to issue blanket denials that they’re targeting journalists when Taliban forces on the ground continue to intimidate, harass, and attack reporters for doing their jobs,” Gossman said.

“Countries supporting the peace process should press for firm commitments from all parties to protect journalists, including women, and uphold the right to free expression in Afghanistan.”

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Officials say troops could be out long before September: New York Times

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(Last Updated On: April 18, 2021)

American officials said on Saturday that orders for the remaining US troops to start leaving Afghanistan could be issued in the next few days.

According to the New York Times, the officials, who were not named, said if US troops face no threats from the Taliban, the forces could be completely withdrawn well before the September 11 deadline.

This comes after US President Joe Biden announced last week that all US troops would be out of the country by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

US officials have not release details on the foreign troops withdrawal schedule except Biden did say last week that the process would start on May 1.

The Boston Globe meanwhile carried an op-ed article on Sunday which stated that there will be a terrible human — and moral — cost to this pullout from Afghanistan, “which is why so many former U.S. officials who have served there have been so depressed and angry during phone interviews this week”.

A former top Pentagon official David Sadney was quoted as saying: “There is a humanitarian disaster coming.”

“The Taliban are taking names, and they will start taking vengeance on women and young people, teachers and their families, who believed in U.S. values. They will be killed and tortured because they bought into a vision the U.S. supported and encouraged, ideas of democracy and free speech.

“I know Afghans who have and will die,” he said.

The article noted that the Biden team tried to accelerate political negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but they got nowhere.

The Taliban made clear that, with U.S. troops leaving, they believed victory was in hand. They opposed any form of constitutional democracy or elections in favor of harsh Islamic rule.

The article also quoted one former US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, as saying: “This is a surrender. Everybody, China and Russia included, is taking note.”

The author of the op-ed Trudy Rubin states the Taliban will crow that they have defeated a superpower – especially since, for some bizarre reason, the final pullout date is set for the anniversary of al-Qaeda’s greatest triumph, the 9/11 attack on the United States.

She writes it would have made more strategic sense for the Biden team to change the narrative and instead of “forever war,” keep around 3,000 troops in the country indefinitely as an insurance policy to prevent a Taliban win until such time as a regional peace could be negotiated.

Rubin points out that after all, the US has kept troops in Germany and South Korea for decades, as a preventative measure.

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Ghani gives Pakistan two choices – friendship or enmity

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(Last Updated On: April 18, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday morning that for the first time in decades, a real opportunity for peace has presented itself and that Afghanistan is well prepared for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

This comes after US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced last week that all foreign troops will be out of the country by September 11.

On Sunday, Ghani said at a 6.30am security meeting at the Presidential Palace (ARG), that “for the first time in modern history, the best opportunity has been provided for Afghanistan. We have been fully prepared for this day for the past two years and for their withdrawal”.

“We are fully prepared to defend our soil and it is time for Afghanistan’s national sovereignty to be fully realized and for Afghanistan to prove its neutrality,” Ghani said.

“One is the republican ranks and the other is the enemy. Those who do not stand in the republican ranks have no place in the state,” Ghani said.

Ghani also said that the Taliban have no religious legitimacy to continue the war, and that Islamic religious scholars from around the world have condemned the war in Afghanistan.

Referring to the review of regional relations with Afghanistan, the president said: “Today is a day of decision for Pakistan. If our country is in turmoil, their country will be in turmoil and if they want our welfare, they will also provide welfare.”

“The choice of friendship and enmity is in their hands and in the case of friendship, Afghanistan is ready to cooperate with Pakistan in increasing cooperation between the countries of the region and the world,” Ghani added.

He also stated that: “Our vision is national sovereignty, republicanism, democracy, prosperity, a free and independent Afghanistan. If the Taliban make peace within this framework, we are open to them and any choice other than that is the Taliban’s pretext for continuing the war.”

“We are a people of determination, not fear,” he added.

Ghani also awarded state medals to 16 members of Kabul’s PD1 security district at Sunday’s meeting.

After presenting the medals to the officials, First Vice President Amrullah Saleh briefed those in attendance on the achievements of the 6.30 am security meetings.
“Promise keeping has become a principle and as a result of continuous efforts, the crime graph in Kabul has dropped dramatically and public satisfaction with government services has increased,” Saleh said.

Ghani lauded officials for their achievements around the 6.30am initiative and said: “You have brought about positive change as a result of group management, you have the capacity, and perseverance and I am your full supporter.”

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Afghan journalists launch center to preserve freedom of speech

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(Last Updated On: April 17, 2021)

A number of Afghan media officials and journalists Saturday officially launched the Afghanistan Center for Freedom of Speech, which is aimed at supporting the values of free speech, the media, and journalists.

During an event to mark the official launch in Kabul, media workers called for an immediate end to the targeted assassinations of journalists and urged the government to prosecute those responsible.

Addressing guests attending the event, Sharif Hassanyar, Head of News for Ariana News stated: “As we enter a crucial phase [in the country] I think the existence of this organization and defending the values of freedom of speech is a must.”

The new center has been funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Information and Culture and will represent the rights and values of the media community in the country.

EU Ambassador to Kabul Andreas Von Brandt also addressed guests and called on warring parties to stop targeting journalists and media workers.

“Mursal Wahidi, Shahnaz Raufi, Sadia Sadat, Ilyas Dayee, and Samim Faramarz were all murdered because of their profession,” he said.

“These targeted attacks not only deprived the victims of their future but they can also be qualified as war crimes,” Von Brandt noted.

“The EU is not only protecting free speech, the EU is the foremost, the world’s largest and the most successful experiment in peacemaking,” he said.

“I stand here to testify that understanding between hereditary enemies is actually possible and peaceful transitions can be managed, but all this needs of course is compromise and the readiness for each side to make concessions.”

“The EU stands ready to help [Afghanistan],” he said.

Meanwhile, in support of journalists, the center on Saturday also awarded Afghan female journalist Anisa Shahid with their inaugural journalist of the year award.

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