Awards 2003 – Hamed

International Press Freedom Awards


Hamed–an independent writer, publisher, political cartoonist, and poet–has emerged as one of the most important voices for press freedom in Afghanistan today. Before being forced into exile under the Taliban regime in 1998, Hamed helped start 10 different publications in Afghanistan, including Salam, the first independent newspaper in the northern city Mazar-i-Sharif, and Sadaf, a women’s magazine. In 1997, Hamed was detained and beaten unconscious on the orders of Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq, then one of the leaders of Mazar-i-Sharif and the current Minister of Planning in the Karzai government, because of his critical articles and cartoons in Salam.

In early 2002, Hamed returned to Afghanistan from Denmark, where he had secured political asylum, and founded the Association for the Defense of Afghan Writers’ Rights with other influential writers and editors. The association works to educate Afghan journalists about freedom of expression and advocates on their behalf when they come under attack for their work. That same year, Hamed founded the magazine Telaya.

Telaya has developed a reputation in northern Afghanistan for publishing bold articles and commentaries about the political and social problems that plague the country. When authorities in the northern province of Baghlan banned the publication in the fall of 2002, Hamed secured the backing of the Information Ministry, which directed the local administration to allow the journalists to work without interference.

More recently, Hamed also came to the assistance of the satirical newspaper Kalak-e-Rhaastgoy (One Who Tells the Truth), another publication he established and to which he contributes political cartoons and short satirical articles and poems. In June, after journalists at Kalak-e-Rhaastgoy began receiving threats from supporters of local commander Gen. Ostad Atta Muhammad, Hamed accompanied the paper’s editor to a meeting with the warlord to complain about the harassment. General Atta promised to investigate the incident.

Hamed, who is a physician by training and a frequent commentator for the BBC’s Dari service, paid a high price again this year for being outspoken. In April, two men armed with knives attacked him in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Hamed’s colleagues believe that the assault came in reprisal for a BBC broadcast in which the journalist criticized the power of local warlords.

In addition to his journalistic work, Hamed currently heads Mediothek, a media center that organizes training workshops for journalists and writers, as well as seminars on subjects including journalism, press freedom, human rights, and strengthening civil society.

CPJ Interview with Abdul Samay Hamed in Mazar, Afghanistan, on October 20, 2003

CPJ: You are a physician. How come you went into poetry, literature, and especially journalism?

Abdul Samay Hamed: In Afghanistan all writers are known as culturalists, or those involved in culture. Our aim is to produce culture and reform the culture that exists already and present it to others. In the third world intellectuals have different dimensions, as they are many things simultaneously.%