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(New York) – The Afghan government should immediately reverse its suspension of the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan for organizing a protest calling for accountability for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The suspension violates both Afghan law and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly under international human rights law.

On June 2, 2012, the Ministry of Justice wrote to the Solidarity Party to inform them of the May 29 decision of the Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of the Afghan parliament, calling for the party’s suspension, pending investigation and possible prosecution of its leaders.

“Governments shouldn’t suspend a political party simply because they don’t like the party’s positions or statements,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “All Afghans have the right to peacefully express their views, whether others agree with them or not.”

Under the Afghan law on political parties, a party may be dissolved only by the courts upon the request of the minister of justice. The grounds for dissolving a political party are the use or threatened use of violence, affiliation with armed forces, and violation of the law. No court order was obtained by the Ministry of Justice allowing the party to be dissolved. The law does not provide for suspension of political parties.

The Solidarity Party of Afghanistan has been registered as a political party since 2004. It has not fielded political candidates, but has been outspoken on controversial issues, including organizing street protests against the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan, the execution of Afghans in Iran, and civilian casualties caused by international troops. It has also spoken out against Taliban abuses, and in support of women’s rights.

The government’s action followed an April 30 protest organized by the Solidarity Party in Kabul, calling for the prosecution of warlords who they allege have committed past atrocities. Many of those accused are currently in the government, parliament, or other official positions. The Solidarity Party protest occurred near the date of the 20th anniversary of “8 Saur,” a national holiday in Afghanistan that celebrates the victory of mujahidin insurgents over a communist government on April 28, 1992. It was also close to another important date in Afghan history, April 27, 1978, the day when a communist government first came to power. The Solidarity Party’s literature described both days as “a shameful stain” on Afghanistan’s history.

The focus of the protest was abuses committed both by communists after their rise to power in 1978, and by mujahidin parties after the fall of the communist government in 1992. Protesters carried signs with photos of the individuals they accused of human rights abuses with their faces crossed out in red paint. A statement issued by the group at the time accused the US and NATO of having “taken into their service” people with histories of abuse and having “implemented a government of murderers and traitors upon our people.” The statement demanded prosecution of those involved in abuses during these two periods of violence.

Condemnation of the demonstration from members of the Afghan parliament was swift. The day after the protest, members of the Meshrano Jirga called for the party to be banned and its leaders prosecuted. On May 8, the Solidarity Party was asked, along with the Minister of Justice, to appear the next day for questioning by the Legislative, Judicial, and Justice Committee of the Meshrano Jirga. Several delays occurred, but on May 22, representatives of the Solidarity Party met with the Complaints Committee of the Meshrano Jirga. On May 29, the Meshrano Jirga wrote to the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs asking the ministry to inform the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, and the National Security Directorate that the Solidarity Party’s activities should be suspended and the organization be investigated by law enforcement agencies.

Afghanistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly. Any restrictions on the right to freedom of association must be necessary in a democratic society, according to law, and not infringe on other rights.

Under the Taliban government, freedoms of speech and association were virtually non-existent. The years since the fall of the Taliban have seen a huge expansion of the Afghan media and a diversity in views expressed in the media, including views critical of the government and parliament. Political parties have gone from being completely banned under the Taliban to being a growing source of political debate and activism.

The administration of President Hamid Karzai has been relatively tolerant of dissent and criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch said. Journalists and politicians have often faced threats and sometimes assassination by enemies, including the Taliban, but there has been little official government interference with free speech and political organizing. The cooperation of the Ministry of Justice in suspending the Solidarity Party is a rare example of the executive branch of the Afghan government acting against the right to free expression.

“Freedom of speech and association has been one of Afghanistan’s great success stories since the fall of the Taliban,” said Adams. “An open discussion within Afghan society about what crimes were committed and who committed them is essential to making sure they never happen again.”

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