Afghanistan

 

af-currentnow

The official flag of Afghanistan

By MW

Introduction

According to the 2016 Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, Afghanistan is ranked 120 out of 180 countries on the basis of press freedom, which places it in the bottom half of all countries ranked. In agreement with the Reporters Without Borders ranking, Freedom House, as of 2016, ranks Afghanistan’s freedom at a 6 on a 1-7 point scale, with 1 being completely free and 7 being absolutely no freedom. Research suggests that Afghanistan’s ranking is such due to the country’s perpetual instability. There will never be any significant positive change in the country’s ranking until there is some sort of stability reached within its government and political and social structures.

Afghanistan is a country operating under a relatively new constitution declaring them a representative democracy. “A Loya Jirga wrote a new constitution in 2004, and the people elected their first president, Hamid Karzai. In September 2014, a new president Ashraf Ghani, was elected” (Abercrombie).  This rather new constitution means there could be hope for the country of Afghanistan in the future to acquire an established government, which in return, will help free speech become a rightly protected liberty for the people of Afghanistan.

Historical Background

Landlocked in Central Asia, Afghanistan has an approximate population of 31.8 million. It is important to note that unity in any way shape or form in the country is hard to explain, and even now the word “unity” in a western context does not carry the same meaning as “unity” in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is comprised from many different tribes and cultures forced together as one. This cross-cultural community was the result of many attempted invasions of the country over the past 4,000 years by almost every powerful force that came across Asia. Afghanistan was not a country “coveted for its resources but as a zone whose inclusion would have tilted the balance of power between the major powers.” (Gopalakrishnan). Due to the diversity of cultures in this country, a number of its citizens did not refer to themselves as Afghans, but instead as what they identified as upon arrival to the country, ranging from Persians, Indo-Aryans, Greeks and so on (Newell).

In 1978, a violent revolution broke out in Afghanistan and eventually deposed Daud Kahn and his royalist government. At this time, the government was handed over to two of the leaders of the leftist political parties, Taraqi and Amin, an unlikely partnership whose harmony only lasted so long. After one tried to kill the other and one mysteriously died, the government failed, and the Soviets began their invasion of Afghanistan. Ten years into the battle with Afghanistan, Russia finally decided it was a lost cause and in waves withdrew its troops, the last of which were removed in February 1989. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, civil war ensued, and with it came the rise of the Taliban.

During such a devastating time, the people of Afghanistan welcomed the Taliban with open arms. “The Taliban proclamation fit largely with the need for a third political movement to guide Afghanistan out of the civil war” (Nojumi). Afghans were more than pleased to see the Taliban was growing in popularity because at this point, “Taliban leadership announced that the goal of their movement was not to pursue political power or control the government but to restore peace and security in the country” (Nojumi).  In this regard, the Taliban knew exactly how to play on the weaknesses and fears of the Afghan people. The Taliban’s key objective was to achieve a pure Islamic society at any cost.  There were many guidelines that come along with the pure Islamic Society and most of them were harshest on women.

In 2001, Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda forces in conjunction with Taliban forces attacked the United States of America, causing only more unrest for the country of Afghanistan. The United States fought back and stopped at nothing to put an end to Osama Bin Laden’s many Al-Qaeda training camps and see to it that the Taliban saw a severe reduction in forces as well. The country has fallen back into the hands of the warlords and factions that caused them many years of misery before the Taliban’s arrival. Back in a state of discord, the country is still unstable and the Taliban is still lurking and lingering. There continues to be a struggle between the governing body, those who were supposed to govern, the warlords and the Taliban. If the Taliban cannot be completely obliterated, there may always be a chance they will rise from the ashes and once again take over Afghanistan as a corrupt governing body.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech in Afghanistan is an area that remains shrouded in mystery. The country of Afghanistan claims to protect, through its constitution, the rights of its citizens to have freedom of expression weather that be through speech, writing, illustrations, etc. It could be debated that this promised protection is more myth than fact. Afghanistan’s current constitution has only been in effect since 2004. Under the relatively new constitution, Afghanistan claims to be a democracy.

“Article 34. Freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution. Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities” (Afghan Constitution). With the Taliban still a force in the country, issues and lawsuits arising pertaining to journalists and civilians are as likely to be ruled upon based on the Taliban’s rules as they are to be governed by the statutes outlined in the new constitution.

The 2015 Human Rights Watch reported that the Taliban amplified attacks on people associated with the presidential election. “In a March 11 statement, the Taliban vowed to ‘use all force’ to disrupt the vote and to, “target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus, and offices” (HRW). During the same election the Taliban reportedly injured around one hundred civilians, killed forty and unjustly mutilated eleven men (HRW). There have been no reported repercussions for the Taliban in regards to the attacks on innocent civilians during the presidential election.

Without a consistently stable government, it is almost impossible to have free speech protection. In conjunction with the unstable government, Afghanistan is also a country that puts its full trust in media run by the government. One can easily see why this could be a biased form of media and, at worst, one that reports only what the government wants the people to know. At this time, there are 190 journalists imprisoned in Afghanistan according to Reporters Without Borders. Additionally, in the year 2017, there have been two deaths of media professionals in Afghanistan due to their work– one a journalist and the other a media assistant, both reported by Reporters Without Borders.

Freedom of the Press

While the Constitution of Afghanistan does not come out right and say that the press is protected it does mention the press and how it should be regulated. “Article 34. Directives related to the press, radio and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by law” (Constitute). The constitution does not get any more specific on the protection of the press in Afghanistan and it can be quite confusing.

According to Freedom House’s “Press Freedom Status,” the country of Afghanistan’s Press is Not Free. Although the country has made significant strides towards freedom of expression by the press in the past few years, they are still a long way off from a truly free press. In 2016, the U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the country of Afghanistan reported that the Taliban is still killing civilians including but not limited to journalists. The main hurdle that Afghanistan is still facing is government owned, operated and controlled media. There are, however, a few media organizations trying to bridge this gap and advocate for non-governmental journalists and reports to be heard and for those journalists and reports to be protected as is promised in the constitution. “Overall it is safe to say that media development in Afghanistan is far from complete. Its problems will continue to escalate post 2014. If Afghan media does not become self-sufficient, it will not be able to continue their work for freedom of speech and even struggle to survive” (Freedom of Speech).

There was legislation put into place in 2007 in efforts to clarify press freedoms in Afghanistan, but it has not prevented wrongful killings of media professionals (Freedom House). In 2007 at the age of 35 female journalist, Zakai Zaki, was brutally murdered in her home. The reason for her murder is still unknown, all that was reported was that Zaki lead the U.S. funded radio station, Radio Peace, and that she at some point in her career had criticized the former mhjahdeen and was one of very few female journalists who spoke out during the Taliban regime (BBC). Although female media professionals seem to be the most targeted, there are accounts of male media professionals who have been wrongly executed for no reason as well. Ajmal Naqshbandi, was kidnapped by the Taliban while visiting them to interview their leaders. Naqshbandi was beheaded after the “Afghan government refused demands to free jailed Taliban leaders in exchange for the journalists release” (CPJ). The year of 2016 was the worst year on record for Afghan journalists. The Taliban for allegedly reporting “revenge” and “false allegations” about the group killed seven Afghan journalists associated with the Tolo media outlet in one suicide attack. Following this incident President Ghani declared a protection on all Afghan journalists and he instructed the Attorney Generals office to investigate and make known publicly the deaths of all journalists since 2002, this decree happened in January of 2016 and as of November 2016 there were no public record of journalists killed that had not already been public knowledge.

There are, however, a few media organizations trying to bridge this gap and advocate for non-governmental journalists and reports to be heard and for those journalists and reports to be protected as is promised in the constitution. “Overall it is safe to say that media development in Afghanistan is far from complete. Its problems will continue to escalate post 2014. If Afghan media does not become self-sufficient, it will not be able to continue their work for freedom of speech and even struggle to survive” (Freedom of Speech). Although female media professionals seem to be the most targeted, there are accounts of male media professionals who have been wrongly executed due to

Freedom House reported that, while conditions improved in 2016 for media professionals, it is still a struggle to report on sensitive topics such as the Taliban. In some cases, when the Taliban was reported on in a negative light, the Taliban made threats towards the reporting media outlet. After all these years, the Taliban, as weak as it is in comparison to its prior self, still has their hand on even the media coverage in Afghanistan (Freedom House).

Critical Comparison

In regards to free speech and free press laws in the United States, there is not much that is the same for the country of Afghanistan. Whereas both constitutions claim to protect freedom of expression as liberties of the citizens, these claims are executed very differently. The first place to start is in comparing and contrasting the U.S. government and the Afghan government. In comparison, the U.S. government is incredibly stable and the country, although it may not seem so given the current political climate, is relatively unified. The U.S. constitution proclaims the protection of its citizens’ speech and freedom of the press in the First Amendment.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Constitution). Although some may say that the U.S. government does not do enough to protect their freedom of expression, it is apparent through research that the U.S. provides much more protection for its citizens than the Afghan government does for its citizens. In Afghanistan, journalists and media professionals have been brutally punished and on some occasions killed due to their reports.

In the case of civilians having free expression in the United States of America we can look to Texas v. Johnson in which it was ruled that just because society finds something offensive it does not mean that government can make it prohibited. Whereas in Afghanistan in 2016 civilians were killed for merely taking part in the presidential election and their government could not protect them due to the Taliban even though their constitution claims they are protected. When it comes to the protection of the press in the U.S we can see a safeguard around media outlets in Hustler V. Falwell where an ad was published that was hurtful to someone but in the end was found to be protected under the First Amendment and the proof of actual malice. While the Afghanistan Constitution says that its media shall be protected the stories of Zakai Zaki and Ajmal Naqshbandi tell us otherwise. Actions speak louder than words and the actions of the Taliban are screaming in comparison to the whispers of the Afghanistan government.

Conclusion

Throughout researching Afghanistan’s rights to freedom of expression and what is alike along with what differs from the United States, there were a few underlying themes that persisted. After learning a great deal about a country with such a negative connotation, it is surprising to learn how powerful Afghanistan truly is. It has withstood almost all of the world’s most powerful forces. One can only imagine what kind of strength the country might amass if only they united behind one common cause rather than divided by internal disputes. “Afghan society has once more shown its enormous strength in resisting outside interference. But it has yet to harness these energies in a way that provides a better life for its people – one in which income or life expectancy are able to match those of any but the poorest country,” wrote Michael Urban (Urban). Research suggests that a substantial amount of the Afghan people believe that they would be better off as a nation if foreign military powers would stop showing up to try to solve their problems (Crews). Weather or not these powers have invaded the land for good or for bad reasons, the result seems to always be the same: turmoil and death, for both the Afghans and those who are occupying the country to make a change. There needs to be a balance and an entirely new approach between the Afghans and the countries who are trying desperately to help them, or else there will never be any positive change achieved. Freedom House reported that in 2015 Afghanistan was ranked as the, “second leading resource of refugees contributing to a migration crisis in Europe” (Freedom House). If Afghanistan cannot find a way to use the help they have been offered and see to the total downfall of the Taliban, hope for the country to be unified and stable will remain dim.

This essay was last updated on April 30, 2017.

Sources

“2016 press freedom barometer | Reporters without borders.” RSF. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Abercrombie, Photograph By Thomas J., Photograph By Steve McCurry, Photograph by Frank and Helen Schreider, and National Geographic Maps. “Afghanistan Country Profile  National Geographic Kids.” Kids’ Games, Animals, Photos, Stories, and More. N.p., 28           Mar. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

“Afghanistan.” Country report | Freedom House | 2015. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

“Ajmal Naqshbandi – Journalists Killed.” Journalists Killed – Committee to Protect Journalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

“Constitute.” Constitute. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017

Crews, Robert D. Afghan modern: the history of a global nation. Cambridge, MASS.: The Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 2015. Print.

“Freedom of speech in Afghanistan-A decade after the fall of the Taliban regime.” The Dissident Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Gopalakrishnan, R. The geography and politics of Afghanistan. New Delhi: Concept, 1982. Print.

Hustler Magazine V. Falwell. USSC. 24 Feb. 1988. Westlaw Academic. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Nojumi, Neamatollah. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: mass mobilization, civil war, and the future of the region. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009. Print.

Newell, Richard S. The politics of Afghanistan. Ithaca: Cornell U Press, 1972. Print.

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Texas V. Johnson. USSC. 21 June 1989. Westlaw Academic. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

“The United States Constitution – The U.S. Constitution Online.” The United States Constitution The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Urban, M. L. (1988). War in Afghanistan (2nd ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

“World Report 2015: Afghanistan.” Human Rights Watch. N.p., 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

 

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