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Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh in a Kabul court in October
Press freedom has become worse in Afghanistan and threats against Afghan journalists have risen in recent years, a media watchdog said today, urging the government to free a reporter jailed for 20 years for blasphemy.

Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for press freedom, said they found progress and development has stalled in Afghanistan after U.S. and Afghan-led forces in 2001 toppled the Taliban, who had banned filming and taking of images among their other restrictions.

Threats against Afghan journalists were mostly in the form of attacks or kidnappings by Taliban insurgents and criminal gangs, the group told a news conference in Kabul.

But they were also concerned about threats posed to Afghan journalists by officials of the Western-backed Afghan government and a series of cases by NATO-led forces that kept journalists from doing their jobs properly.

Some journalists were prevented by their employees from reporting freely about developments in their country, the Paris-based organization said.

"Press freedom in Afghanistan is getting worse in recent years and it is the government's reverse this worrying trend," Jean-Francois Julliard, the head of Reporters Without Borders, told reporters.

Two Afghan journalists were killed and some 50 were either threatened or attacked in 2008 alone, Julliard said.

During its meetings with government officials, the group pushed for the freedom of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, who was initially condemned to death before his sentence was commuted to 20 years in jail for talking about women's role in Islam and for printing an article from the Internet that was seen as blasphemous, Julliard said.
At least five members of the Baha'i faith have been arrested in Iran, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Security forces reportedly raided their homes, took away their personal belongings -- including computers and religious books -- and transferred the detainees to Evin prison, outside of Tehran.

Diane Alai, the UN representative of the Baha'i International Community in Geneva, told Radio Farda that the arrests come amid growing state pressure on Bahai's in Iran.

One of the detainees, Zhinoos Sobhani, worked as an assistant with the Organization for Defending Mine Victims and the Center of Human Rights Defenders, both founded by Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

In a statement, Ebadi’s center -- whose offices were recently shut down by Iranian authorities -- confirmed Sobhani's arrest at her house early on January 14.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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