In Herat, the government has almost complete control of public speech-in the press, civic associations, the university, and the workplace. Ismail Khan and his government have not allowed the formation of independent media or associations, and tightly control the activities of the few organizations and media that have been permitted. Ismail Khan has restricted speech about his government, about his troops, about women's rights, and about any other topics he chooses. He has also forbidden local journalists from covering ongoing military conflicts between his forces and other forces in the region. This situation has created a climate of intimidation and fear in which citizens censor themselves rather than face the consequences.
This situation is in stark contrast with Herat's literary and political tradition. Herat has a long history of being one of Afghanistan's most literate and educated cities, and many Heratis pride themselves on this.116 As one official in the Afghan government in Kabul noted: "Comparing Herat with other provinces, others are not as prepared for publications, but in Herat there is the opportunity-people have higher expectations to have their own publications and publish freely, but this has not come true."117
Restrictions on Press Freedom
Ismail Khan's agents employ a Soviet-style treatment of the press-harassing, manipulating, and in some cases threatening journalists in order to keep them from filing independent stories. Journalists working for international news services are not exempt: several Herat-based journalists have been threatened and physically prevented from covering certain topics. During the loya jirga elections, Amniat agents harassed journalists attempting to report on the elections and, at the moment of the second round elections, detained a journalist from Kabul, preventing him from reporting on the voting. There were further cases of intimidation after the loya jirga.
Cases of Intimidation of Journalists
Other journalists and their employers also told Human Rights Watch that Amniat agents followed journalists during the elections both at the district level and in Herat city.120 The agents stopped and questioned the journalists, and tried to listen to their interviews.121
After the loya jirga, Amniat agents intimidated radio journalists from filing stories containing complaints about Herat's government or reporting on military activities near the city. One journalist described how he was intimidated in early July:
When asked if he complied with their demand, the reporter replied: "I have got to! Otherwise I cannot live here. There is not any freedom for expression ... anyone who says something may pay the cost."123
Another journalist told Human Rights Watch that in August 2002 military troops stopped him and other journalists from traveling to areas in Ghorian and Shindand districts where Ismail Khan was conducting military operations against Pashtun forces and where there were serious allegations that his troops had committed abuses.124 While the journalists were stopped, military officers threatened them, saying that they would arrest them.125 Later, a government official in Herat told the journalist that if he filed stories that were negative about Ismail Khan, he would be expelled from the city.126
According to a news producer for a major international service, press freedom in Herat is the worst in all of Afghanistan:
Other writers explain that they censored themselves out of fear of the government. One woman said:
The corollary of these problems, as explained in more detail below, is that many people in Herat have been instructed not to speak with journalists, under threat, which makes it difficult for many journalists to conduct interviews. One former BBC stringer says that she could not do her job because most people were afraid of speaking with her.129 "I wasn't free to ask for their own ideas," she explained. "The young generation is not able to speak freely because they are repressed by the government."130
Restrictions on Print Media
Ittifaq-e Islam, the daily newspaper, is controlled by Ismail Khan and the Herat office of the Ministry of Information and Culture. The newspaper contains articles of little substance on non-controversial issues; conservative editorials in line with Ismail Khan's views about Islam, including articles urging increased restrictions on women; and articles describing and praising Ismail Khan.135 Human Rights Watch interviewed one of the paper's writers, who asserted that political content is censored from the newspaper. The writer explained that passages critical of the Herat government "were cut ... because of their political meaning."136 Others made similar complaints.
Many bookstores or stationary shops do not sell Ittifaq-e Islam, claiming that almost nobody reads it. According to one shopkeeper: "No one buys it. It has nothing of interest. It has nothing for the young people to read. It is just `esteemed Emir this' and `honorable Emir that.'"137 One Afghan journalist described it as "the Ismail Khan praise paper."138
Takhassos, the newsletter of Herat's professional shura, is edited by Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, the organization's head and loya jirga delegate who was beaten by Amniat agents during the loya jirga elections (discussed above). Observers often describe Takhassos as the only independent publication in Herat, but this is not accurate.
The paper's content has changed dramatically over the last six months, most notably after Shahir's arrest and beating. With each edition its critical tone softened and has now disappeared. While the first two issues in March and April 2002 contained articles questioning the makeup of the Herat government,139 advocating criticism towards the government and exposing possible corruption in reconstruction projects,140 later issues had little substance. Instead, the paper now contains artificial praise of the government's work. For example, the "Message Board" in the July-August edition said: "We appreciate the quality of our television and radio programs."141
Aurang-e Hashtom, the journal of the Herat literary society, founded when the Taliban were in power, publishes literary works and poetry. During Taliban rule, the editors stressed that all material was to be literary, "not political," which is why Taliban officials allowed it. Members report that since Ismail Khan took power, his officials have pressured the society to publish articles about "mujahidin and hijab" and avoid anything that might be politically controversial, including women's rights. Pressures from the government, and internal controversies, have led to conflict within the editorial board. At the time of writing, the journal had not been published for over two months. (See below for more information on the literary society.)
Millat, a new weekly publication, is reportedly supported by an Iranian group. It contains articles praising Ismail Khan's government and other articles describing cooperation between Iran and Herat.
Human Rights Watch did not find any secret or underground publications in Herat in September 2002, although such publications may exist on a small scale.
Restrictions on Printers and Booksellers
Several print shopkeepers told Human Rights Watch that they could not print substantive material (as compared with business materials like receipt books, menus, etc.) without a permit from the Herat office of the Ministry of Information and Culture. As with publishers, a permit from Kabul is not sufficient.142 One Herati printer explained: "You must have a permit in order to print a political publication, and I cannot print unless the person who brings the publication has one. If I printed something without the permission, they would prosecute me and take me to jail."143 Another printer explained:
When asked what would happen if the shop printed without permission, the man responded: "First, they would close the shop, and I would lose my business. And second, they will arrest me, and take me to jail, and there they will beat me."145 When asked if the situation was similar to that under the Taliban, the printer exclaimed, "Worse!"146
A sign and banner painter told Human Rights Watch that he was unable to produce any material that challenged Ismail Khan or the government of Herat: "No, I cannot make anything political, or anything against the government. I could never do this. They will come and cut off my head.... I cannot do anything like that. The police station is right down the road. When they take people there, you know what happens."147 The painter became extremely nervous and pale, and refused to answer any further questions.
Bookstore and stationary shopkeepers told Human Rights Watch that even if unauthorized publications or publications critical of Ismail Khan existed, they would not be able to sell them. "There is no freedom," a seller of books said, "I cannot have books like this [publications that criticize the government]. And I cannot have newspapers that are not allowed."148
Government Control of Herat Television
In early October, because of an incident at Herat television, Ismail Khan reportedly ordered the arrest of one of his own officials. The political director of the police department produced a short show on police activities for Herat Television. One Herati familiar with the case said that the allegation was that the director had "played a song on the program" that "was not the kind of song that Ismail Khan liked."150 The song was called "Something for the Bravery of the Soldiers."151 A pop song of the same title was recorded in the 1980's, played on modern instruments with female singers.152 The political director was arrested and released the next day.153
Women and girls are not often shown on Herat television. When they are, it is on condition that they be completely covered. If they do not comply, their images are not shown. When broadcasting movies, Herat television has begun substituting a blank screen or an image of flowers whenever women appear in the picture.154 The picture is restored when only men are shown.155 (The control of women's images on Herat television will be discussed more fully in Human Rights Watch's forthcoming report on women's rights in Herat.)
Music and Movies
But by early October, new "moral police," had appeared in Herat, created under the Ministry of Hajj and called "Vice and Virtue" by local residents, recalling the Taliban police who used to patrol cities and beat women for wearing "revealing" burqas, or men for not having sufficiently long beards (a milder version of a "Vice and Virtue" police also existed during Ismail Khan's first rule in Herat in 1992-95). In the first week of October, a squad appeared in the main Herat bazaar and raided shops containing videos, music cassettes, and movie posters. A Herati described what happened:
Restrictions on Individuals' Freedom of Speech and Association
The Professional Shura
Expecting change after the fall of the Taliban, the founders intended to organize meetings among professional and educated Heratis, publish a newspaper, and make recommendations to the Herat government on a range of policy issues. The organization's charter explicitly stated that the group would not be a political party. In early 2002, the founders took the charter to Ismail Khan for approval. He had little enthusiasm for the group, but he signed the charter nonetheless. Through the first half of 2002, in veiled references in public speeches and on television and radio, Ismail Khan made uncomplimentary comparisons between educated people and mujahid. For example, he said that "one hundred professors are not worth one hair of a single mujahid." Many interpreted this as directed at the Professional Shura and its members.158
As time went on, the relationship between Ismail Khan and the shura grew worse. The shura attempted to issue its first publication in March 2002. Representatives approached the head of the Herat office of the Ministry of Information and Culture to obtain the requisite approvals. They brought with them the organization's charter, signed by Ismail Khan, which specified that the shura would publish an independent newspaper. The Minister refused to recognize the charter and denied the shura's requests. Because local printers would not print the publication without government permission, the shura printed the first issue itself. At the end of March, during a visit by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general and head of UNAMA, Shahir presented copies to Brahimi and Ismail Khan, as well as to the UNAMA Herat office. Since Brahimi was present, there was little Ismail Khan could do to at the time. However, the organization has faced increasing restrictions on its activities since then. In July and August, Ismail Khan began to criticize the shura by name in his speeches. Some members became so fearful that they refused to take part in activities that might make them the target of his anger, such as publishing criticism of his government, challenging his restrictive policies towards women, or meeting with foreign journalists.159
A few days after the loya jirga, on June 26, Ismail Khan held a meeting to which he invited delegates who had attended the loya jirga and members of the Herat Professional Shura. At the meeting, with a BBC television team present, Ismail Khan gave a speech urging the members to speak freely and to make suggestions about the government and administration of Herat city. Late in the speech, however, troops ordered the BBC cameraman to stop filming and to leave the meeting.160 A cameraman present from Herat television also turned off his camera. The meeting continued.
A man named Abdul Qadir from the Professional Shura subsequently stood up and started speaking. According to one witness:
In late September, Ismail Khan forcibly prevented the shura from meeting. The shura had scheduled a seminar for 3:00 p.m. on September 26 to discuss the new national plan for changing Afghan banknotes, and had sent out about one hundred invitations.164 The day before the meeting, staff from Ismail Khan's office called the shura office and left a message for Rafiq Shahir ordering him to cancel the seminar.165 (Some shura members believe that Ismail Khan feared they would discuss broader economic issues, including his control of the Herat customs revenue from trade to and from Iran and Turkmenistan.)166 Shahir disregarded the message. The following day, shortly after 11:00 a.m., the commander of the police station visited the shura office and left a message again telling Shahir to cancel the meeting.167 Shahir then went to Ismail Khan's office to ask him to reconsider. Ismail Khan refused to meet with him and sent a message through his secretary saying that the seminar could not go ahead. Shahir decided to cancel the seminar, but it was too late to contact the invitees. When Shahir and other participants reached the shura compound at about 2:15 p.m., it was filled with troops who told Shahir that they were acting under Ismail Khan's orders to be there and to stop the meeting.168 Scores of people continued to arrive. The troops sent some people home, and others fled upon seeing the soldiers.169 The professional shura's office and compound is approximately fifty meters from UNAMA's residence compound.
Local residents have noted with despair the treatment of the Professional Shura. A printer spoke angrily:
The Herat Literary Society
However, since returning to power, Ismail Khan and his officials have limited the participation of women and girls and have sought to control the content of the society's work. About a month after Ismail Khan came back into power, the society held a large meeting at a hotel in Herat. A participant described the meeting:
At approximately the same time, a group of girls petitioned Ismail Khan for permission to form a girls' section of the literary society. Ismail Khan refused.173 Then a group of boys and girls attempted to form a youth section of the society. One of the participants said that:
As with the women's shura (discussed below), the government has pressured the literary society to avoid the subject of women's rights. For example, after a public meeting in August 2002 where a member read an article she had written about women's rights, government officials pressured the literary association to censure further discussion of the topic. The speaker was told not to write articles of this type in the future.175 A witness said that:
Many persons interviewed concluded that, as of September 2002, the literary society was no longer operating independently from the government. One individual who had decided not to participate explained: "In the literary society you cannot work freely. You must be under the government's control and I don't want this."177 Another former member said that, "Now the literary association is really under the government's control. Before it was not like that. We cannot write freely."178
As a result of the pressure, various members, who had taken grave risks to participate in the literary society during the Taliban period, told Human Rights Watch that since the loya jirga they had stopped participating. Some have gone to Kabul or other places seeking greater freedom and safety. Others found their hopes after the Taliban's fall unfulfilled and were simply too discouraged to continue. In September 2002 the long-time head of the society resigned.179
The Women's Shura
An eighteen-year-old woman who chose not to join the shura explained: "Ismail Khan didn't want a Women's Shura to exist, but when [he allowed it,] he selected the head of the women's shura himself. After he had selected the head, we couldn't give our ideas freely."180 Even those who have chosen to participate in the Women's Shura concede that it is controlled by Ismail Khan. "The president was appointed by the government," one member told Human Rights Watch.181 "It's not private, it's under the government's control. Some person from the government attends each meeting," said another member.182 Other members confirmed that Ismail Khan or his officials attend and monitor the shura's meetings.183
At the shura's first meeting, Ismail Khan defined the organization's mission. According to Herat television: "The general Emir of the southwest zone during a speech clarified the role of the Shura's women in the rehabilitation of the country, the rehabilitation of deprived women, and solving family problems, then listened to the opinions and suggestions of women and gave clear answers to their questions."184
The shura's handpicked leadership has subsequently restricted what topics may be addressed, especially those that touch on women's rights. The leaders have chastised at least two women for speaking about women's rights, one who disagreed with Ismail Khan about women's rights at a shura meeting and another who spoke to a journalist.185 Human Rights Watch also interviewed a member of the Professional Shura who said that she was not invited to join the Women's Shura because of her political participation in that forum.186
Several women and girls who are members said that because of these events they do not feel free to speak openly in the shura. Some have chosen not to participate or have dropped out. According to a former member:
A university student explained her frustrations: "There is no individual group or women's association except the Women's Shura established by Ismail Khan. I don't participate in it-I don't like to go to Ismail Khan and talk about these things."188 Another student explained: "I am not part of the Women's Shura because that shura is entirely dependent on the government and is close to the government and the government's policy and nobody can say anything that they feel."189 When asked if the Women's Shura could represent their interests, a group of students who had attended some meetings said, "No. Maybe in the future we will participate and give ideas, but not now."190
Speech in the University
The dean of Herat University is Abdurrauf Mukhlis, the former head of Ismail Khan's "Vice and Virtue" department in the early 1990s. Ismail Khan put Mukhlis in place over the objections of the Ministry of Higher Education in Kabul. The ministry sent a delegation to the university just after the loya jirga to hold faculty elections for the post of dean, in accordance with ministry policy.193 Ismail Khan met with the delegation personally and refused to allow the elections.194 According to one person present, Ismail Khan said, "It's not the right time to do everything according to the law and principles. What other works have been done according to rules and procedures that we should hold elections in the university according to the Ministry of Higher Education's procedures?"195
Students were not happy with Mukhlis' appointment. As the former head of "Vice and Virtue," Mukhlis hardly had the kind of background that would encourage free thinking. "You can imagine what he imposes," a student told Human Rights Watch.196 Students and professors reported that Mukhlis has created a "closed environment" on campus, where they fear discussing anything political, interaction between boys and girls is suspect, and women's behavior is tightly regulated.
Discussions about politics are forbidden, even in the classroom. "We are not allowed to hold political talks inside the university," a professor told Human Rights Watch.197 Students confirmed that this was the case:
An eighteen-year-old student told Human Rights Watch:
Both students and teachers said they feared reprisals for speaking critically. A professor who offered Human Rights Watch specific examples of Ismail Khan's repression, said, "If you say that I said this, Ismail Khan will come and get me. After this they will say I can't teach in the university."200
A student who told Human Rights Watch that she censors what she writes for her classes explained:
Mandatory Political Rallies
The shopkeeper compared the closings to those ordered under the old Soviet-backed regime of the 1980s:
Self-censorship occurs even in non-political contexts. One medical professional described to Human Rights Watch how he was unable to speak openly even about governmental health policy for fear of the consequences.211
116 See Christina Lamb, The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage through Afghanistan, (New York: Harper Collins, publication forthcoming November 2002).
117 Human Rights Watch interview with N.N., Kabul, September 22, 2002.
118 Human Rights Watch interview with I.S.K., print and radio correspondent, Kabul, September 25, 2002.
120 Human Rights Watch interview with a BBC producer, Kabul, September 23, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002.
121 Human Rights Watch interview with a BBC producer, Kabul, September 23, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with I.S.K., radio and print correspondent, September 25, 2002.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with G.Z.K., Herat, September 13, 2002.
124 Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with M.I., correspondent, Herat, September 1, 2002.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002.
127 Human Rights Watch interview with a BBC producer, Kabul, September 23, 2002.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with M.M., Herat, September 12, 2002.
129 Human Rights Watch interview with former BBC stringer, Herat, September 12, 2002.
131 Human Rights Watch interview with A.L., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002.
133 Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., Herat, September 12, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with I.S.K., print and radio correspondent, Kabul, September 25, 2002.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with A.L., Herat, September 11, 2002.
135 Human Rights Watch will document restrictions on the lives of women and girls in Herat in a forthcoming report.
136 Human Rights Watch interview with writer published in Ittifaq-e Islam, Herat, September 14, 2002.
137 Human Rights Watch interview with bookstore owner, Herat, September 19, 2002.
138 Human Rights Watch interview with I.S.K., radio and print correspondent, Kabul, September 25, 2002.
139 Takhassos, March 2002.
140 Takhassos, March-April 2002 (second March edition).
141 Takhassos, July-August, p. 14 (message board).
142 Human Rights Watch interviews with four printers in separate locations, Herat, September 14 and 15, 2002.
143 Human Rights Watch interview with H.R., printer, Herat, September 14, 2002.
144 Human Rights Watch interview with R.A., printer, Herat, September 15, 2002.
147 Human Rights Watch interview with M.H.A., sign painter, Herat, September 15, 2002.
148 Human Rights Watch interview with F.A.S., bookstore and stationary shopkeeper, Herat, September 15, 2002.
149 Human Rights Watch interview with I.S.K., print and radio correspondent, Kabul, September 25, 2002.
150 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with L.H., Herat, October 11, 2002.
152 Human Rights Watch interview with K.J.J., Herat, September 13, 2002.
153 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with L.H., October 11, 2002.
154 Human Rights Watch interview with G.A.K., Herat, September 19, 2002.
156 Speech by Ismail Khan, Herat main mosque, September 9, 2002 (transcript on file with Human Rights Watch; translation by Human Rights Watch).
157 Human Rights Watch interview with G.Z.K., Herat, October 10, 2002.
158 Human Rights Watch interview with D.A.H., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., Herat, September 13, 2002.
159 Human Rights Watch interview with Professional Shura member, Herat, September 16, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with S.Q., Herat, September 14, 2002.
160 Human Rights Watch interview with BBC television correspondent, Kabul, September 24, 2002.
161 Human Rights Watch interview with A.L., Herat, September 11, 2002.
162 Human Rights Watch interview with a UNAMA official, Kabul, September 8, 2002.
164 In early October, the Afghan government implemented an exchange program to replace the old inflated afghani notes with new notes at a rate of one new note to 1,000 old notes.
165 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with A.L., September 30, 2002.
170 Human Rights Watch interview with H.R.H., printer, Herat, September 14, 2002.
171 For more on the history of the Herat literary society under the Taliban, see Lamb, The Sewing Circles of Herat.
172 Human Rights Watch interview with J.A., Kabul, September 24, 2002.
173 Human Rights Watch interview with petitioner, Herat, September 12, 2002.
174 Human Rights Watch interview with J.A., Kabul, September 24, 2002.
175 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.
177 Human Rights Watch interview with M.B., Herat, September 17, 2002.
178 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.
179 Human Rights Watch interview with A.H., literary society member, Herat, September 15, 2002.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.
181 Human Rights Watch interview with V.S., Herat, September 14, 2002.
182 Human Rights Watch interview with P.L., Herat, September 11, 2002.
183 Human Rights Watch group interview with shura members, Herat, September 11, 2002.
184 "Women's council re-established in west Afghan city," BBC Monitoring South Asia transcript of report on Herat T.V., 17:00 GMT, August 30, 2002.
185 Human Rights Watch interviews with two shura members, Herat, September 11, 2002;
186 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.F., Herat, September 16, 2002.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with F.M., Herat, September 17, 2002.
188 Human Rights Watch interview with M.M., Herat, September 12, 2002.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.
190 Human Rights Watch interview with students, Herat, September 11, 2002.
191 Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Higher Education official, Kabul, September 22, 2002.
192 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with A.J.K., Herat journalist, October 10, 2002.
193 Human Rights Watch interview with N.N., Kabul, September 22, 2002.
196 Human Rights Watch interview with H.M., Kabul, September 30, 2002.
197 Human Rights Watch interview with university professor, Herat, September 17, 2002.
198 Human Rights Watch interview with M.M., Herat, September 12, 2002.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with S.R., Herat, September 12, 2002.
200 Human Rights Watch interview with M.B., Herat, September 17, 2002.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with M.M., Herat, September 12, 2002.
202 Human Rights Watch interviews with six bazaar shopkeepers, Herat, September 15, 2002; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with G.Z.K., October 3, 2002.
203 Human Rights Watch group interview with teachers, Herat, September 11, 2002.
204 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.H., shopkeeper, Herat, September 12, 2002.
205 Many Heratis call Ismail Khan's political machine "Jamiat," as though it were part of the Jamiat-e Islami party of the Northern Alliance. There are links between Ismail Khan and the Jamiat party, but Ismail Khan never refers to himself as a member of Jamiat.
207 Human Rights Watch interview with P.W., Herat, September 11, 2002.
208 Human Rights Watch interview with F.M., Herat, September 11, 2002.
209 Human Rights Watch interview with H.D., Herat, September 11, 2002.
210 Human Rights Watch interview with F.M., Herat, September 11 and 17, 2002.
211 Human Rights Watch interview with A.H., Herat, September 15, 2002.