A purported recording of an encounter between members of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s security detail and a journalist is a troubling reminder of the fragility of the country’s hard-won media freedom.
Alyas Tahiri, a journalist from the town of Bamiyan, 180 kilometers west of Kabul, gave Human Rights Watch the recording that appears to capture an incident in which security officials threatened, beat, and cursed him. These same officials also erased photos and video footage of a protest Tahiri had gathered in Bamiyan during a visit by Ghani on August 29. In the recording, a security official can be heard cursing at Tahiri, who protests he was just doing his job as a journalist. “Shut it, shut it. You’re not allowed to film here,” the official says.
The security official can be heard telling Tahiri that reporters were not allowed to cover the protests that turned violent during Ghani’s visit. He calls Tahiri a “buffoon,” “filthy,” “lowlife,” and accuses him of being a “spy” with “the characteristics of a pimp.” The official threatens to “trample” Tahiri before another official intervenes and advises his colleague to “shatter [Tahiri’s] cell phone and give it back to him.” A third security official then urges the erasure of images from Tahiri’s camera.
Tahiri told Human Rights Watch the same security personnel also repeatedly slapped him, kicked him, looked through his Facebook account on his phone without his permission, and confiscated his phone, camera, and press card.
Human Rights Watch cannot verify the recording’s authenticity, but it appears to validate the accounts we gathered from other Bamiyan journalists who said they had been mistreated and beaten by security forces. Nine journalists were mistreated in the Bamiyan attacks, not by ordinary police or militias, but by the president’s security detail. Ghani has since announced an investigation into the incidents. Any security force members implicated in the incident, including commanding officers, should be appropriately punished.
Afghanistan’s burgeoning media, considered one of the country’s major achievements since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001, has been increasingly under attack. Ten journalists have been killed in the first six months of 2016, making this year the deadliest on record. The Taliban and other insurgents have been responsible for most of the attacks, but government officials and security forces have also been found to have assaulted and threatened journalists. Ghani has spoken out in support of media freedom in Afghanistan. He can demonstrate he is willing to back those words with action by ensuring a thorough investigation of the abuses of journalists in Bamiyan last month.