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Afghan Research Society
M. Siddieq Noorzoy
                            
Bruce G. Richardson

Dec. 11, 2006

The War on Freedom of the Press

            Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice
                                                   …Lord Acton

Since1993, 21 cases in which the person or persons who ordered a journalist’s death
have been arrested and prosecuted.  That means that in 94 % of cases, those who
murder journalists do so with impunity…many times journalists were murdered either
to prevent them from reporting on sensitive issues, such as corruption or human rights
abuses, or to prevent disclosure of a treasonous orientation among those in power, or
to punish them after they had done so.  In 23 cases since 1993, journalists were
kidnapped…taken alive by militants, criminals, guerrillas, or government security
organs…and subsequently killed.  A few were held for ransom, but a majority were
kidnapped and killed for political reasons.  During the past decade, 366 were killed.  
The murder, physical abuse and detention of journalists around the world receive
scant attention and often go unpunished. (Source: CPJ,
Committee to Protect
Journalists
).
In Christian Ethiopia, the press has been crushed, foreign correspondents expelled or
abducted and many journalists beaten, harassed and killed, editors critical of
government policies, put in jail. The government has hired foreign (mercenaries),
specialists to help it shut down dissident websites, tap telephones and track e-mails.
However, to conclude that Ethiopia is unique or an isolated case in this regard is to
ignore the enormity of the problem.
On October 7, 2006, Russian, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned
down by unknown assailants at her hotel in Moscow.  Politkovskaya had engendered
the wrath of the Russian government security services having written several scathing
articles critical of President Vladimir Putin’s government, focusing on his oppressive
Chechnya policy.  Tatyana Goryachova, the editor-in-chief of a Ukrainian newspaper,
Berdyansk Pelovy, was walking home from work on January 28, 2002,when an
unknown assailant threw hydrochloric acid on her face.  She was temporarily blinded
and her face was badly disfigured from scarring.  Though her assailant/s have never
been caught, she believes that the attacks stemmed from her writing reviews critical of
the government in Kiev.
Many assume that journalists who are killed or wounded covering conflicts around the
world fall victim as a result of “collateral damage”, a modern-day euphemism for
friendly-fire death on the battlefield.  But evidence tells a different story.   A cursory inter-
net search will produce irrefutable evidence about what can only be characterized as
the premeditated assassination of journalists reporting from such hot spots as Gaza,
West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Columbia, Venezuela, Sudan,
Eritrea, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, and Georgia.  Most, if not all of these conflicts are
profoundly unjust, morally and ethically, and prosecuted upon a foundation of systemic
deception, misrepresentation and untruths.  Those in power do not relish exposure for
war crimes and latent criminality so pervasive among nations predisposed to
imperialism along with and including the legions of despots who collaborate with
them.  As Arthur Miller once said, “The thought that the state is punishing so many
innocent people is intolerable.  And so the evidence has to be internally denied.”  To
see the effect of the war on freedom of the press, note that the
2006 Press Freedom
Index
from Reporters Without Borders ranks the United States 53rd out of 168
countries.  Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands tied for first place.  The U.S.
was tied with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga.  The report is critical of the U.S. for
unwarranted bombing attacks against al-Jazeera headquarters in Afghanistan and
Iraq, the killing on March 7, 2005, of an Italian bodyguard and wounding of Giuliana
Sgrena, reporter from the Italian Il-Manifesto newspaper near Baghdad.  Sgrena
maintains that U.S. troops were aware of her travel plans and approach to a
checkpoint and was deliberately targeted for criticizing the U.S. invasion and
occupation of Iraq.
                                                         
Afghanistan

Contrary to President Bush’s delusional ranting about democracy taking hold in
Afghanistan, the revered institution of freedom of the press, and other freedoms we in
the West take for granted, are largely illusory. June 13, 2006.  Cameraman Omid
Yakmanish was attacked and threatened with death for reporting an attempted attack
on a female MP, his footage was an embarrassment to many politicians, and their
reaction was swift and violent.  He was confronted and assaulted by an MP who told
him “Slaughtering sheep is difficult for me, but killing you would be easy.”  In 2005,
there were 40 attacks on journalists in Afghanistan including 2 murders, several cases
of abduction, assault and imprisonment.  In some ways the media have flourished
since the fall of Taliban in 2001, but warlords, former Communists and Soviet
collaborators and government officials are often displeased with media examination of
their past and present especially when they expose cases of corruption, treason and
war crimes.
During international
Literacy Day journalists were beaten and detained by security
agents for “illegally taking photos of prohibited places.”  An editor of a women’s rights
magazine was sentenced to 2 years for “blasphemy” due to an article published
concerning women’s rights and viewed as critical of government policy.  “If we try to
report about war criminals or of collaboration with the Soviets by prominent people we
are told we are damaging national security”, said Masood Quam, host of
Tolo TV.  
“After 30 years of war, it’s common now for people to threaten to injure you, or to break
your teeth, or to even kill you and your family.”
On August 29, 2006, 3 staffers from
Tolo TV were beaten by armed men while covering
a demonstration against Rasul Sayyaf in Paghman.  During the demonstration 2
protester were killed by police.  September 21, 2005,
CNW Telbee reported that in pre-
election violence 3 journalists were abducted, 2 arrested, many others threatened.
“While the Afghan media has played a key role in the preparations for these elections,
they have been singled out for attack by groups linked to certain war lords”, said
Reporters Without Borders.  In yet another incident the provincial governor summoned
the correspondent in Jalalabad of an international station, and complained about a
broadcast of a report on the murder of an election candidate and 2 police officers in the
province.  The governor suggested to the journalist that he could suffer the same fate
as an Afghan reporter for the
BBC World Service, Mirwais Jalil, who was murdered in
1994, if he did not work to promote the interests of the local authority.  Another
Jalalabad journalist was also threatened with death by the authorities for reporting
criminal activity by appointed officials.  In Kabul a reporter with
AVA, Saleem Wahdat,
was beaten and detained by the secret Afghan National Security Agency when he was
covering a ceremony organized by the education minister.  Tariq Siraj, editor of the
Weekly Bamiyan and assistant director for the Kabul Film Production Co. and Basier
Seerat, cameraman, were beaten and abducted while filming a documentary for the
Afghan Women’s Ministry.
A not so subtle government censorship has also been experienced on a personal
level. In a letter dated September 28, 1998, received from Nisar Ahmad Samad,
recounts as to how Massoud Khalili, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Ambassador to India
marshaled the resources of the Indian intelligence services (RAW) to prevent Samad
from publishing a Dari and Pashto translation of my book
Afghanistan, Ending the
Reign of Soviet Terror.
  Nisar Ahmad Samad was arrested, detained, physically
abused, interrogated and threatened with death if he persisted with the translation and
publication of this book, a book that undoubtedly could prove an embarrassment to
Ahmad Shah Massoud for his treasonous cooperation with the Soviets.  At a later date,
linguist Nisar Ahmad Samad had emigrated from India to Canada whereupon in a
less hostile environment he succeeded in publishing and distributing the translated
work.  
The war on truth and freedom of the press is also under attack from another direction,
though a more sophisticated and subtle war …choreographed by those with secrets to
hide from public scrutiny and discourse:  The Universities of Manchester, Liverpool
and Leeds concluded that more than 80% of the media unerringly followed the general
government line and less than 12% challenged it. “These guys are journalists in the
same sense that the old staff of
Pravda, the mouthpiece of the Soviet Kremlin, are
journalists…that is they aren’t real journalists in any meaningful sense of the term,
they are propagandists pure and simple: shills for the government.  When the state is
pushing a course of action…an invasion, either of a foreign country or the rights of its
own citizens…these people respond like Pavlovian parrots…rationalizing and
explaining from their perches in the mainstream media, outdoing one another in the
obeisance to power, in the hope that they’ll be invited to the next gathering of the
movers and shakers, the power elite“, said the Dean of Journalism at the University of
Manchester.  “It is as if our long trail of blood is forever invisible, intellectually and
morally”, opined another educator.  
A free and independent media is our only window into the activities of government…
those who often in secret and in our name make war and visit horror upon innocent
nations and people in their quest of corporate riches.  Without our army of intrepid
journalists we will be unable to hold those whom we elect and their appointees
accountable for their actions.

                                                       Bruce G. Richardson
The War on .. >
Afghan Research Society is dedicated to
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Afghanistan and Afghan issues.