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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the report's findings were encouraging but far from sufficient. (file photo)

The United Nations says there has been "encouraging" progress in Afghanistan's efforts to eradicate the torture of people detained in relation to the country's ongoing conflict, but much remains to be done.

"The UN documents an encouraging reduction in the number of cases of torture since 2016 but notes its ongoing concern at the high number of detainees who continue to report torture and ill-treatment," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office said in their latest report issued on April 17.

The document says the Afghan government has made progress in enforcing the National Plan on the Elimination of Torture, and achieved a reduction in the torture or ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees across the board.

Almost one-third, or 32 percent, of the detainees held by the Afghan military and interviewed by UNAMA gave "credible and reliable accounts" that they had been tortured or ill-treated, said the report, based on statements by 618 detainees held in 77 facilities in 28 provinces across the country between January 1 2017 and 31 December 2018.

That represented a reduction of 8 percent compared to the almost 40 percent over the previous reporting period, from January 2015 to December 2016.

Beatings reportedly represented the most usual method of torture and ill-treatment, with most detainees saying they had been beaten to force them to confess and that the treatment stopped once they did so.

Among conflict-related detainees held by the Afghan National Police (ANP) and interviewed for the report, the percentage of those who said they were tortured or ill-treated fell from 45 percent over the previous reporting period to 31 percent.

'Very Disturbing'

However, the reported rate was "a very disturbing 77 percent in the ANP facility in Kandahar," the document said, adding that "allegations of brutal forms of torture, such as suffocation, electric shocks, pulling of genitals, and suspension from ceilings" were made by those interviewed, as well as allegations of enforced disappearances in Kandahar.

The report says that, while the reduction represents welcome progress, the “decline in use of torture or ill-treatment is not yet significant enough to indicate that the remedial measures taken are sufficient.”

It also raises concern about poor conditions of detention in some facilities, including the one run by the military in Parwan. "Overcrowding, inadequate lighting, the use of solitary confinement as the sole disciplinary measure, and restrictions on family visits and access to lawyers" are mentioned in the document.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the conclusions of the report, issued on the first anniversary of Afghanistan’s accession to the Convention Against Torture’s Optional Protocol, demonstrate that the policies implemented to combat torture and ill-treatment were bearing fruit, but were far from sufficient.

“I urge the Government to work swiftly to create a National Preventive Mechanism to ensure independent, impartial scrutiny of the treatment of detainees," Bachelet said.

"A well-resourced watchdog of this sort, which is able to make unannounced visits to places of detention and raise awareness of what constitutes torture and ill-treatment according to international human rights law, can go a long way towards the ultimate goal of fully eradicating torture.”

RSF said that the case against Shahzeb Jillani has been designed to "intimidate and silence" Pakistan’s journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned what it calls "trumped-up charges" against a Pakistani journalist.

Shahzeb Jillani, an investigative reporter who works for the Urdu-language Dunya News TV channel, is accused of "cyberterrorism" and making "defamatory remarks against the respected institutions of Pakistan."

Jillani is due to appear in court in the port city of Karachi on April 17.

The Paris-based media watchdog said in a statement on April 16 that the case against Jillani has been designed to intimidate and silence Pakistan’s journalists and called on the court to dismiss the charges.

He has been charged under a controversial cybercrimes act and two Criminal Code provisions.

"Pakistan's authorities are yet again manipulating the laws in order to silence a journalist who dared to cross a red line by criticizing certain institutions," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. "It is shocking to see how, little by little, case by case, the Pakistani security agencies are tightening their vice in order to intimidate the entire media profession into censoring themselves."

'Sarcastic' Language

Jillani, who previously worked for the BBC and Deutsche Welle, is known for his critical reporting on Pakistan's powerful army and intelligence services.

Criticism of the military establishment has long been seen as a red line for the media, with journalists and bloggers complaining of intimidation tactics including kidnappings, beatings, and even killings if they cross that line.

In September 2018, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that the climate for press freedom in Pakistan was deteriorating as the country's powerful army "quietly, but effectively" restricted reporting through "intimidation" and other means.

Jillani is accused of making "audacious remarks against invisible security forces of Pakistan" during an appearance on Dunya TV in 2017, and making similar comments in 2019.

The police report into the complaint said Jillani had also tweeted "sarcastic, derogatory, disrespectful and defamatory language" against Pakistani state institutions.

With reporting by AFP

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