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Afghanistan’s Media Self-Censors to Survive

Press Freedom at Risk in Deadliest Country for Journalists

Policemen help Afghan journalists, victims of a second blast, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 30, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

The role Afghanistan’s vibrant media plays in public life represents one of the most significant changes that have taken place in the country since 2001. But that achievement is under threat, as journalists face growing intimidation and violence from both state and non-state actors. 

On March 28, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) held a town hall meeting featuring leading media figures in Kabul to discuss the critical role media should play in Afghanistan’s ongoing peace process, while also highlighting the risks journalists face.

Recent examples of these risks are not hard to find. On March 12, Nisar Ahmad Ahmadi, a journalist in Helmand, was wounded by an explosive device attached to his car. Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa a journalist with Zhman TV and radio, was killed on March 15 when two men on a motorcycle fired on his car. The Taliban claimed responsibility for killing local radio journalist Javid Noori in Farah province on January 5. In 2018, at least 13 Afghan journalists were killed, more than in any other country.

In a 2015 report, Human Rights Watch warned that impunity for those who intimidate or attack journalists undermines media freedom. In most cases, threats, assaults, and even murders of journalists – whether by insurgents, strongmen, or officials – go uninvestigated and unprosecuted. The situation has not improved since then. “Self-censorship has become a ‘survival issue’ for most reporters, especially those working in remote areas or provinces,” Hamidullah Arefi, editor-in-chief of the state-owned Kabul Times, told us. “Many journalists avoid reporting on sensitive issues – including corruption, land grabbing, violence against women, and human rights.”

Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. Media freedom is vital for holding the government accountable and ensuring public awareness of the peace effort. The fragile gains in media freedom made since 2001 are sustainable only if both the government and Taliban take effective measures to end threats, intimidation, and violence against Afghan journalists and media organizations.

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