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Threats Build Against Journalists In Afghanistan


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Stop Reporting Or We'll Kill Your Family - that's the chilling title of a new report by Human Rights Watch on threats to journalists in Afghanistan. The document details not only how members of the local media are targeted by the Taliban and warlords, but also how the government there has failed to protect them.

2014 was the most violent year on record for Afghan journalists according to one media advocacy group.

We're joined now from Kabul by Najib Sharifi. He is the head of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee. We should also say Najib worked as an NPR producer and translator for several years. Welcome to the program, Najib.

NAJIB SHARIFI: Thank you, Rachel. I'm happy to be with you.

MARTIN: So I suppose there is good news in that Afghanistan, over the years, has seen this huge expansion of news outlets since the fall of the Taliban. But that progress is clearly under threat. Why have things gotten so dangerous for local journalists at this point?

SHARIFI: Well, it's mainly because the government did not manifest the necessary political will to protect media, freedom of expression and journalists. And it was, basically, this reluctance on the part of the government that emboldened everybody to attack journalists with the belief that they can get away with it. The other part, which is extremely discouraging and disappointing, is that the government elements, particularly security forces, have been the biggest source of intimidation and violence against journalists.

MARTIN: Why? What's the motivation?

SHARIFI: It's mainly because of the corruption and are being involved. They see the media as a threat to their behavior.

MARTIN: Can you talk about the kinds of threats that Afghan journalists face today?

SHARIFI: They encounter the danger of death, danger of getting assaulted, danger of them losing their jobs because of pressures. They receive threats from the government. They received threats from the Taliban. They receive threats from the warlords. Journalists, they have to resort to self-censorship because there are many cases that they are not able to report.

MARTIN: The human rights report details that, suggesting that editors and reporters end up steering clear of certain topics that they think could get them killed.

SHARIFI: Absolutely.

MARTIN: You and I both remember a time in Afghanistan right after the war, the U.S. invasion, when there were all kinds of American and European NGOs working there starting media organizations. Millions and millions of dollars were spent trying to build a free press in Afghanistan. Did it make a difference? Did it pay off? Was the money worth it?

SHARIFI: Well, it did pay off in the sense that we have to keep in mind that today, the media is playing a very important role in the public life in Afghanistan. It's basically the media that is the only watchdog over the - not only the government, but also non-state actors.

MARTIN: Lastly, the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has talked a lot about the importance of the free press in Afghanistan. Are you optimistic? Do you expect any follow-through from his government on this?

SHARIFI: The signal sent by the National Unity Government is promising. However, to preserve and to protect media, we need more meaningful actions by the government. This is something that we are still waiting to see. But in sum, I can say that the initial actions of the National Unity Government has made us hopeful about the future of media and freedom of expression.

MARTIN: Najib Sharifi is the head of the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee. He spoke with us from Kabul. Thanks so much for talking with us, Najib.

SHARIFI: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.