Afghan media rights activists have joined United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in voicing their concerns over the rise in the number of journalists being killed, as the first-ever International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is marked worldwide today.
“In a conflict situation, the journalists often come under the threat of parties to the conflict, particularly in countries like Afghanistan, where the public perception toward media is archaic,” said Siddiqullah Tawhidi, the director of Afghan media watchdog Nai. According to NAI, the number of journalists killed in Afghanistan increased from three in 2013 to seven in the first 10 months of 2014. Since 2001, NAI has documented more than 300 cases of violence against journalists, resulting in more than 44 deaths. In his message for the Day, Mr. Ban said more than 700 journalists, “for simply doing their job,” have been killed in the last 10 years. This must stop, he stressed. “By ending impunity, we deepen freedom of expression and bolster dialogue,” Mr. Ban went on to note. “A free and open press is part of the bedrock of democracy and development.” The UN chief also noted that the world body has a plan to help create a safe environment for journalists and media workers everywhere. Last year, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, proclaiming 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, to highlight the need for the protection of journalists around the world. In Afghanistan, during the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, the media sector was restricted to one radio broadcaster and a limited number of newspaper and magazines. Since 2001, the sector has grown, with more than 12,000 media workers currently working throughout the country, according to Nai. Mr. Tawhidi said most of the victims of violence against journalists in Afghanistan have included those working in the southern and eastern parts of the country, where the conflict is more intense than in other areas. He was speaking at a radio roundtable discussion, joined by another Afghan media-rights activist, Hamid Poia, to be broadcast this week by several radio stations across the country. In his comments, Mr. Poia, who heads a media-rights group called Media Bazaar, highlighted the importance of enacting a media law as the first step to ensure journalists’ safety. “Unfortunately, we did not have an access to information law in the last 13 years. Lack of such law has been one of the main challenges for the investigative journalists,” said Mr. Poia. A draft of a new access to information law was approved by the previous government and the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament (Wolesi Jirga). It is awaiting approval by the Upper House (Meshrano Jirga) and the President for enactment.