CPJ writes Karzai: Afghan journalists fear retribution

September 15, 2009

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:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about conditions for journalists in Kandahar. Long destabilized by efforts to defeat the Taliban, the southern province has become even more dangerous since the recent presidential elections. Besides the daily threat of being caught up in an attack by insurgent groups, several local journalists tell CPJ they fear beatings, detentions, or worse in retribution for their reporting.

Journalists say they are particularly concerned about threats from officials connected with the provincial council, which is headed by your brother and election campaign manager, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Reporters from several news outlets including Radio Liberty, Pajhwok Afghan News, and the Surgar (“Red Mountain”) weekly newspaper, told CPJ that police and local officials repeatedly threaten their reporters. At least one journalist, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, told CPJ that Ahmed Wali Karzai had threatened him directly by telephone.

Officials threatened staff at Surgar, a Pashto and English-language newspaper, after the newspaper ran an audience poll about the most popular election candidate and reprinted articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post alleging Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug smuggling and election campaign corruption, local journalists told CPJ. Ghousuddin Firoten, director of the Kandahar-based Hindara Magazine produced by the Hindara Media and Cultural Foundation, said that Surgar had popular support for its independent reporting. Surgar is clearly publishing what the people are saying,” Firoten said in a telephone interview with CPJ. “TV and radio stations don’t broadcast these issues.”

Another journalist who declined to be named out of fear of retribution said officials on the provincial council, which your brother heads, had threatened his employees and obstructed publication of a local magazine. “Talk to Ahmad Wali Karzai, and get the permission and then we will happily give you the permission … to run your magazine,” an official told him, he said. “Journalists in Kandahar are living in terrible situations,” he told CPJ by e-mail from Kandahar. “If they do not agree to the orders the powerful men give, they will be threatened,” he said.

Calls to Ahmed Wali Karzai at his offices at the Kandahar Provincial Council for comment went unanswered.

 “The conditions in Kandahar are really bad,” Danish Karokhel, Pajhwok Afghan News agency director in Kabul, told CPJ by e-mail. Local officials refuse to cooperate with journalists, he said.

Mirwais Afghan, a former BBC and Reuters journalist, told CPJ he was forced to flee Kandahar following direct threats to him from high-ranking officials. “From the fall of the Taliban regime journalists have been always threatened, and especially these days these threats have been increased,” told CPJ by e-mail from London. CPJ believes more independent reporters will be driven into exile if local authorities continue to harass them.

On August 19, your government requested that journalists throughout the country refrain from reporting on attacks during the election in case they intimidated voters. CPJ spoke with several Kabul-based journalists about the obstruction this caused to their work. In Kandahar, police severely beat Radio Liberty reporter Dawa Khan Minapal and confiscated his equipment on August 26 at the site of an explosion that had killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens more the day before, according to local news reports.

Kandahar’s problems are not new. On March 10, gunmen in a white car opened fire on local journalist Jawed Ahmed, who died instantly. The circumstances behind the murder remain unclear. The freelance reporter, who worked for Canadian CTV and other news organizations, had been detained by U.S. forces without charge for 11 months at Bagram Air Base before being released in September 2008. Several journalists insist that the Afghan government was somehow behind the attack, but CPJ has not been able to determine who killed Ahmed. Local police have yet to successfully investigate this murder, a fact that deeply concerns Ahmed’s colleagues as they continue their work. 

CPJ is continuing to monitor conditions for journalists in Kandahar, including impunity for attacks and allegations of government threats and coercion. Such persecution runs counter to the democratic process you are seeking to uphold in Afghanistan. We urge you to ensure that local authorities immediately cease harassing members of the media and promote a climate in which journalists can perform their work without fear of reprisal.

We thank you for your attention to this matter.


Joel Simon

Executive Director