June 11, 2008
President Hamid Karzai
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
C/o The Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Via facsimile: 202-483-6487
Dear President Karzai,
News reports have described your plan to present a $50 billion, long-term development strategy to international donors in Paris on Thursday. Those reports have also noted the concerns of international donors about allegations of widespread corruption in Afghanistan.
Free and robust news media serve as a check against corruption, underlining the credibility of your government and allaying concerns about malfeasance. Your administration has done much in the past to allow development of a free press, but your government’s failure to stem recent attacks on journalists has undermined those achievements.
CPJ calls on you at the Paris conference to pledge that your government will safeguard press freedom. In doing so, we urge you to commit to the following steps:
- Call for the release of imprisoned journalism student Parwez Kambakhsh, who was sentenced to death by a provincial court in January on blasphemy charges. A devout Muslim, Kambakhsh denies the accusation and has filed an appeal. Among the allegations are that Kambakhsh possessed published material about the Prophet Mohammed and discussed it with fellow students. We share the concerns of local journalists that Kambakhsh is being targeted to put pressure on his brother, journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, who has repeatedly angered officials with his articles for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
- Identify and prosecute the killers of BBC journalist Abdul Samad Rohani, who was slain in Helmand province on June 7. Violence stemming from political instability continues to jeopardize the local and international press, but journalists are more likely to be murdered than killed covering combat situations, CPJ research shows. Your government has failed to solve the slayings of seven other journalists in Afghanistan since 1998, sending an alarming message to the press and anyone who plans to attack them. The Taliban has denied responsibility for Rohani’s killing, according to The Associated Press.
- Investigate reported attacks in western Herat province against two female journalists who later resigned their news media positions. Unidentified assailants twice hurled grenades at Khadija Ahmadi’s house in April after she was anonymously warned to quit her post at Faryat radio station, according to news reports. Herat TV presenter Nelofar Habibi says an intruder stabbed her in her home on May 15, news reports say.
- Direct prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the privately run television network Tolo TV for defying a parliamentary ban on selected Indian soap operas. Saad Mohseni, Tolo’s founder and director, and local press freedom advocates are alarmed that this ban is a first step toward censoring other types of programming, including news programming. Your statement, cited in the Chicago Tribune, that “unsuitable material should not be broadcast” appears to give tacit support to censorship. It is a matter of record that Tolo’s news agenda is often at odds with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture. It has repeatedly broadcast a video clip of Information Minister Abdul Khuram dismissing freedom of speech issues as “useless talk,” according to news reports. Faizi Zadran, an announcer for state-run Radio Television Afghanistan, was recently threatened with dismissal after appearing in a press freedom discussion broadcast by Tolo, according to the Tribune and the local news Web site Quqnoos. Tolo is accused of offending public morals and endangering national security, according to The Washington Post.
A free and healthy press will help assure international donors that they are making a wise investment in Afghanistan. Your promise at Thursday’s Paris conference to uphold press freedom would send a very positive message to the international community.