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HRW Calls on Afghan Government to Protect Media

FILE - An Afghan man reads a newspaper at a tea shop in Kabul.
FILE - An Afghan man reads a newspaper at a tea shop in Kabul.

A U.S.-based human rights group has called on Afghanistan's leadership to condemn attacks on journalists and media freedom, in order to protect the right to free speech.

Human Rights Watch released a report Wednesday describing ways it says the Afghan government has failed to investigate and prosecute allegations of harassment, intimidation, and attacks on journalists. It said the failure to investigate and prosecute such incidents has emboldened parties determined to suppress criticism of the government, its security forces, and other powerful entities in Afghan society.

The report said Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency has greatly contributed to the climate of fear by explicitly targeting journalists whose reporting it deems unfavorable. Journalists report that the behavior often influences them to self-censor on sensitive issues such as corruption, violence against women, and other human rights abuses.

The rights group's deputy Asia director, Phelim Kine, said Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani needs to back up campaign promises to protect media freedom by prosecuting and bringing to justice anyone who abuses members of the press.

Afghan media advocacy organization Nai has reported that 2014 was the most violent year on record for journalists in Afghanistan, with attacks up from 2013 by 64 percent. It says government and foreign support for press freedom will be particularly important this year and in following ones, now that most foreign forces have withdrawn from the country.

The Taliban on December 13 explicitly threatened members of the media, saying journalists seen as supporting so-called "Western values" would be targeted for attack.