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Afghanistan: Journalists Face Increasing Government Pressure

  • Farangis Najibullah --> Relatives of Zakiya Zaki, a killed female journalist, weep as her body is prepared for burial in Jabbul Saraj on June 6 (AFP) July 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Afghan reporter who was critical of the government has been released after four days of detention on undisclosed charges. But a second journalist -- who reportedly reprinted extracts of an essay critical of President Hamid Karzai -- remains in custody.

International media rights groups such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels condemned the arrests of the Afghan journalists and demanded their release.

Unexplained Arrests

The Afghan National Security Directorate (NSD) did not say why radio journalist Kamran Mir Hazar -- who was released on bail on July 8 -- was arrested in the first place.

Journalists -- wary of possible retaliation for an unfavorable news report -- are forced to censor themselves in trying to avoid criticizing powerful politicians, drug dealers, or warlords.

The security service continues to hold Asif Nang -- the editor in chief of the government publication "Peace Jirga" -- who was arrested on June 30.

No reasons have been given by the NSD for either reporter's arrest.

Mir Hazar is also chief editor of the political blog, and his detention has been linked to articles published on his blog website.

Some of the articles criticize Afghan officials and accuse others of espionage.

After negotiation with security officials, Afghanistan's National Journalists Union was able to get Mir Hazar release on bail.

Criticism Not Taken Well

Union head Sayeed Agha Fazil Sanjaraki said he cannot confirm the alleged link between Mir Hazar's articles and his arrest. However, Sanjaraki says that Afghan officials do not usually tolerate journalists who criticize the government.

"Criticizing the Afghan government brings strong retaliation," he said. "The government does not tolerate criticism and it expects the media to exaggerate the government's achievements instead of disclosing the government's internal problems, its corruption and ineffectiveness, and criticizing its inabilities."

It seems that the alleged pressure from authorities is not the only problem Afghan journalists have been facing in recent months.

Sanjaraki says reporters face growing pressure and security threats as the security situation worsens in Afghanistan amid increased attacks from the Taliban-led insurgency.

He says that journalists -- wary of possible retaliation for an unfavorable news report -- are forced to censor themselves in trying to avoid criticizing powerful politicians, drug dealers, or warlords. Additionally, religion, family, and tribal traditions still remain taboo subjects for Afghan journalists and hardly anyone would dare challenge the words or actions of religious leaders.

Female Journalists Killed

Afghanistan's female journalists face additional pressure from their families and because of the practices in the country's conservative society.

Two women reporters -- Zakiya Zaki, the head of Radio Peace in Parvan Province, and Shakiba Amaj, a Shamshad TV reporter in Kabul -- have been killed this year for practicing their profession.

Manizha Bakhtari is the editor in chief of the magazine "Parniyan," based in Kabul. Bakhtari says security threats and self-censorship have become a "harsh reality of the day" for her colleagues.

"My colleagues face such problems every day and they face threats," she said. "So many times they [could] have criticized someone or disclosed a government secret or, sometimes, they got caught up in conflicts between the government and its opponents. [In such cases our journalists] were forced into self-censorship and had to remain silent. They were threatened."

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