Afghan presidential candidates make press freedom commitments

In a significant win for Afghanistan’s media, both presidential candidates in the disputed runoff election have endorsed a statement of support for press freedom and the country’s beleaguered journalists

The endorsement of the 12-article statement comes as Afghanistan’s media experiences one of the most violent periods in recent years for Afghanistan’s media.

A successful example of the tireless efforts of the IMS-founded Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC) and three other journalist groups, the two candidates have signed onto respecting freedom of speech and press freedom as “non-violable principle[s]” and have pledged “to spare no legal measures to promote and protect [them].”

The endorsement of the agreement comes only weeks after IMS and AJSC expressed concern over Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s lacking plans on how they want to contribute to furthering freedom of expression or media in the country.

Speaking to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Najib Sharifi, director of AJSC, highlighted the encouraging development that the statement of support was drafted by a broad coalition of journalist groups: Afghanistan’s National Journalists Union, Nai, Afghan Independent Journalists Association as well as AJSC. The fact that the groups acted jointly to achieve the endorsements is extremely encouraging given that there has often been a discouraging lack of unity within the journalist community, said Sharifi.

Although the two candidates’ commitment to support press freedom is a significant success, the situation for Afghanistan’s local media remains fundamentally insecure. Violence against Afghan journalists increased 40% in the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period last year, said AJSC in August. Nearly two-thirds of the violence originated from the government and security forces.

The Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee is a locally managed safety committee established by IMS to assist journalists in danger and support families of victimised journalists. The safety committee is the first of its kind established in Afghanistan with its inclusion of press unions, media representatives and civil society organisations. The committee is in charge of a 24-hour hotline, a safety support emergency fund and advocacy work on safety in 32 out of 34 provinces.

The statement of support is available in English, Dari, and Pashto.