Dear Governor Ismail Khan:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the recent assault, detention, and expulsion from Herat of Ahmad Behzad, a reporter for the U.S.- funded Radio Free Afghanistan.
On March 19, security agents in the western city of Herat assaulted and detained Behzad after the journalist raised questions about the human rights situation in Herat Province. The incident occurred immediately following opening ceremonies at the newly established Herat office of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.
According to Behzad, the trouble began while he was conducting an interview with Afghanistan's interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, who was among the officials present at the opening of the government-established human rights office. When Behzad started questioning Jalali about sensitive subjects, including allegations of discrimination against women in Herat, Your Excellency intervened. You allegedly berated Behzad for being "shameless" and "impudent" and ordered him out of the room, according to the transcript of an interview Behzad gave to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which produces Radio Free Afghanistan.
Just outside the human rights office, Behzad was met by Nasir Ahmed Alawi, head of the Herat branch of Amniat-e Mille, the national security force. The Amniat office in Herat is reported to be under Your Excellency's direct control. Alawi slapped Behzad in the face, in front of dozens of witnesses, and other Amniat agents also treated the journalist roughly before taking him into custody.
Behzad was held for six hours at the Amniat compound in Herat, but says he was not further harmed in detention.
On March 21, at a ceremony held on the occasion of Nowruz, the Afghan New Year celebrated according to the Persian calendar, Your Excellency reportedly criticized Afghan journalists working for international news agencies as "media slaves" and warned, "I would like to tell [the journalists] that just like those who served the Russians and benefited from them, they too will meet the same end." These statements, which were reported by RFE/RL, may be seen as a serious threat in view of Your Excellency's leadership of armed resistance to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979.
On March 24, Behzad was ordered to leave Herat by local Amniat chief Alawi, on your instructions, according to RFE/RL.
Behzad is now in Kabul, where he intends to present an open letter addressed to President Hamid Karzai, asking him to ensure that journalists in Herat are free to do their work without interference. This appeal has been supported by many journalists in Herat, including journalists working for international news agencies such as the Voice of America and the BBC, as well as those working for Herat-based publications such as Takhassos and Shugufa.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ joins our Afghan colleagues in calling on the government to uphold the right to free expression. In September 2002, at the conclusion of an international seminar on promoting independent media in Afghanistan, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez endorsed a declaration affirming "freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and an essential part of the free, modern nation Afghanistan aspires to build on the principles of Islam, democracy, and human rights."
We respectfully ask you to guarantee that all journalists working in Herat will be free to carry out their duties without political interference or fear of physical reprisals. We also urge Your Excellency to refrain from targeting journalists and to notify security officials in Herat that harassment and intimidation of the media must cease immediately.
We thank you for your attention to this important matter and await your response.