Safety of journalists and press freedom vital during peace talks

5 Nov 2020

Safety of journalists and press freedom vital during peace talks

KABUL – The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) and the United Nations jointly-hosted a conference today in Kabul with media, government and civil society to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, with participants highlighting the particular importance of press freedom during peace talks.

“Attacks against journalists have often a major objective: to silence them. When governments fail to bring to justice those responsible for such attacks, they are effectively exercising a form of censorship, muzzling those who dare to report and chilling others into silence. Protecting journalists is protecting people’s right to know, to have access to information and to be informed”, said UNAMA’s Human Rights Chief, Fiona Frazer.

Minister of Information and Culture, Tahir Zuhair, reiterated the Afghan government’s commitment to the existing values, including press freedom. “Afghans are not ready to return to the past, despite all the challenges we are going ahead. Government is ready to support plans presented by the journalist community on press freedom and journalists safety in the future peace agreement.”

Speakers at the event included Tahir Zuhair, Minister of Information and Culture, Shahrzad Akbar, Chairman of Independent Human Rights Commission, Attorney General, Mohammad Farid Hamidi, and Mujib Khalwatgar, Director of Nai, supporting open media in Afghanistan on behalf of Afghan Journalist Federation.

The year 2020 has been of particular importance for Afghan journalists given the hope held out by peace negotiations set against ongoing violence, natural disasters and the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the event, the participants exchanged views on the formation of a working group for the protection of press freedom during the Afghan peace talks and the parameters of its work. 

In his global statement for the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to a new operating environment for the media this year. 

“The pandemic has highlighted new perils for journalists and media workers, even as the number of attacks on their physical safety has grown. There were at least 21 attacks on journalists covering protests in the first half of 2020 – equal to the number of such attacks in the whole of 2017”, said Guterres. “ When journalists cannot do their jobs in safety, we lose an important defence against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online.” 

According to UNESCO, in the past fourteen years (2006-2019), close to 1,200 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public.

Media freedom and freedom of expression are recognized human rights. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, orally or in written form, or through any media.

Journalists in Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Kunduz, Ghazni and Khost marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists with local government officials, the UN and civil society. 

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The resolution urged member states to implement measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.

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