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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Afghanistan: Open letter from a persecuted journalist

Below is an open letter from Naser Fayaz, a journalist for ATN TV channel, which has been sent to human rights organisations. It is reprinted from http://asia-pacific-action.org/.

The Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan, http://rawa.org/, “requests all its supporters and well-wishers of Afghan people to defend the brave and freedom-loving journalist Naser Fayaz and register their protest to his harassment by sending letters to the following sources”: President Hamid Karzai, president@afghanistangov.org; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, spokesperson-unama@un.org; Supreme Court of Afghanistan aquddus@supremecourt.gov.af.

This is Naser Fayaz, the ATN journalist who was illegally detained by the Afghan intelligence agency. I want to thank all the national and international organisations and all the print and electronic media outlets that fought for my release. On July 28, intelligence agents briefly detained me and the same day in the evening again I was detained by the intelligence agency and released after one night. The detention took place due to my investigative program Haqeeqat (“The Truth”), which is based on facts and truths, is broadcast every Sunday at 9.30pm.

The program also reflects the current political, social and economic issues of the country. The July 27 program, which was based on the Afghan government’s performance during the last four years, was pulled off the air mid-broadcast on the demand of the intelligence agency, which had called to the station. This is against the freedom of the press and violation of article 34 of the Afghan constitution. The show was discussed at the regular council of ministers meeting on Monday, which accused me of “insulting” top government officials, and was followed by my detention by the intelligence officials. Let me assure you that there was nothing against the national interest and everything was based on facts. This is against the constitution, because Afghan law has due process provisions in cases where a journalist is accused of violations.

It calls for the creation of an independent investigative committee composed of lawyers, journalists and other professionals. Several organisations known for supporting human rights and freedom of speech condemned my detention. Reporters Without Borders has urged the Afghan government to be clearer and more serious in its policy towards freedom of speech, saying it is not the responsibility of the intelligence agency to oversee media activities in the country.

This case is not the first where journalism has been jeopardised in Afghanistan. At several instances in the past, governmental agencies have harassed media activists in the country. Journalists and media workers in Afghanistan have come under increasing threats and attacks by both state and non-state actors and several journalists have been killed. The government, in particular the intelligence services and the Ulema Council (council of religious scholars), have attempted to reduce the media’s independence. Amnesty International in its report has said that the Afghan government must prevent the country’s intelligence agency from suppressing media freedom.

AI says it has no right to interfere in this case and its involvement signifies an unwarranted government intrusion on Afghanistan’s media. Officially the intelligence services only have the authority to address national security threats. After my detention and release, I am feeling very scared. Only last night when I was reading a news bulletin, one of my colleagues in the station received a call from my brother at home informing that he has been witnessing some suspicious movements around my house. Over telephone he said that several armed persons with big turbans and suspect attire were moving around my residence. He told me not to go home because it could be a threat to my life.

And right from that time I have not visited my house; I am at a safer place provided by my employer, ATN. The situation what I have been going through is intimidating me. I don’t feel safe and also I am concerned about my family. I am passing through a kind of fear right after my release. It seems any time anything can happen to me and my family. Seemingly it is possible that I might be attacked when I come to my office from my home and when I go home from my office. And the same case might happen with my family. They may be attacked at any time in my presence or in my absence. Therefore I request myself and my family members be provided with armed protection.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #762 13 August 2008.

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