September 15, 2009
President Hamid Karzai
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
C/o The Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Via facsimile: 202-483-6487
Dear President Karzai:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about
conditions for journalists in Kandahar.
Long destabilized by efforts to defeat the Taliban, the southern province has
become even more dangerous since the recent presidential elections. Besides the
daily threat of being caught up in an attack by insurgent groups, several local
journalists tell CPJ they fear beatings, detentions, or worse in retribution
for their reporting.
Journalists say they are particularly
concerned about threats from officials connected with the provincial council,
which is headed by your brother and election campaign manager, Ahmed Wali
Karzai. Reporters from several news outlets including Radio Liberty, Pajhwok
Afghan News, and the Surgar (“Red Mountain”)
weekly newspaper, told CPJ that police and local
officials repeatedly threaten their reporters. At least one journalist, who
declined to be named for fear of retribution, told CPJ that Ahmed Wali Karzai
had threatened him directly by telephone.
Officials threatened staff at Surgar, a Pashto and English-language newspaper, after the
newspaper ran an audience poll about the most popular election candidate and
reprinted articles from The New York
Times and The Washington Post alleging Ahmed Wali
Karzai’s involvement in drug smuggling and election campaign corruption, local
journalists told CPJ. Ghousuddin Firoten, director of the Kandahar-based Hindara
Magazine produced by the Hindara Media and Cultural Foundation, said
that Surgar had popular support for
its independent reporting. “Surgar is clearly publishing what the
people are saying,” Firoten said in a telephone interview with CPJ. “TV and
radio stations don’t broadcast these issues.”
Another journalist who declined to be named out of fear of
retribution said officials on the provincial council, which your brother heads,
had threatened his employees and obstructed publication of a local magazine. “Talk
to Ahmad Wali Karzai, and get the permission and then we will happily give you
the permission … to run your magazine,” an official told him, he said. “Journalists
in Kandahar are living in terrible situations,”
he told CPJ by e-mail from Kandahar.
“If they do not agree to the orders the powerful men give, they will be
threatened,” he said.
Calls to Ahmed Wali Karzai at his offices at
the Kandahar Provincial Council for comment went unanswered.
“The conditions in Kandahar
are really bad,” Danish Karokhel, Pajhwok Afghan News agency director in Kabul, told CPJ by e-mail.
Local officials refuse to cooperate with journalists, he said.
Mirwais Afghan, a former BBC and Reuters journalist, told
CPJ he was forced to flee Kandahar
following direct threats to him from high-ranking officials. “From the fall
of the Taliban regime journalists have been always threatened, and
especially these days these threats have been increased,” told CPJ by e-mail
CPJ believes more independent reporters will be driven into exile if local
authorities continue to harass them.
On August 19, your government requested that journalists throughout
the country refrain from reporting
on attacks during the election in case they intimidated voters. CPJ spoke
with several Kabul-based journalists
about the obstruction this caused to their work. In Kandahar, police
severely beat Radio Liberty reporter Dawa Khan Minapal and confiscated
his equipment on August 26 at the site of an
explosion that had killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens more the day
before, according to local news reports.
problems are not new. On March 10,
gunmen in a white car opened fire on local journalist Jawed
Ahmed, who died instantly. The circumstances behind the murder
remain unclear. The freelance reporter, who worked for Canadian CTV and other
news organizations, had been detained by U.S. forces without charge for 11
months at Bagram Air Base before being released in September 2008. Several
journalists insist that the Afghan government was somehow behind the attack,
but CPJ has not been able to determine who killed Ahmed. Local police have yet
to successfully investigate this murder, a fact that deeply concerns Ahmed’s
colleagues as they continue their work.
CPJ is continuing to monitor conditions for journalists in Kandahar, including impunity
for attacks and allegations of government threats and coercion. Such
persecution runs counter to the democratic process you are seeking to
uphold in Afghanistan.
We urge you to ensure that local authorities immediately cease harassing
members of the media and promote a climate in which journalists can perform their
work without fear of reprisal.
We thank you for your attention to this matter.