In Afghanistan 59 journalists have been killed while 1400 journalists have been subject of assault since 2009. As Taliban and ISIS openly target journalists and routinely raid media offices, journalists work under “extremely difficult” circumstances that prevent them from carrying out their work.
Many are escaping the current situation and seeking refuge in the EU or hunting job opportunities the Gulf States. However, some are returning back to carry on their work as they found themselves jobless refugees in the countries they fled to.
Amidst the ongoing cycle of threats, Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) is trying to find solutions to support journalists through creating local and international networks to advocate the protection of media workers.
Najib Sharifi, the head of AJSC, in a side event on Safeguarding media in Afghanistan said that working under Taliban, ISIS, organized crime and the government makes it difficult for media workers to do their job in Afghanistan. He stressed that this should not hold them back: “Any non-governmental organization has to work relentlessly in order for its voice to be heard”.
Having no previous experience doing security work, AJSC struggled for three years to establish a networking structure on the local level. Networks were created through first identifying stakeholders, signing memorandums of understanding or contracts with the identified partners and allowing a space of trust to build between them.
Recently, the AJSC had the government sign the access to information law and safety of media outlets to work freely. “We consider this a great achievement,” Sharifi says.
Networking is the key in fostering supporting journalists
AJSC structure works on two levels: supporting journalists kidnapped by Taliban, ISIS, or mafia groups and supporting journalists arrested by the Government through various tactics that help them react according to the different situations.
AJSC is represented in eight provinces through representatives who work as focal points. According to Sharifi, these representatives know their own communities very well and understand the dynamics needed to make advocacy a success.
They do some advocacy activities, collect data for cases and record them in order to solve them. This work is done through their connections of local people and dignitaries who have their say in their respective communities, in order to affect the decision making to save a journalist kidnapped by Taliban or the mafia.
When cases are beyond the representatives’ capacities, the AJSC headquarters located in Kabul interfere. They make the government and intelligence forces take part in solving the problem through a pressure group of local organizations’ networks. Working with a government that “does not like journalists” is very difficult, Sharifi notes. “We have to find ways to work with the government as lots of assistance comes from its side in big cities when trying to release kidnaped journalists by Taliban.”
When the government arrests a journalist, AJSC works on the local and international levels to advocate the case. They partner with International organizations such as International Media Support (IMS) among others to practice some pressure over the government. They issue condemnation statements to release the arrested media workers. Sharifi added: “This work needs continuous follow up. Otherwise the government does not react immediately and will think that no one is following up the case.”
On the contrary, when Taliban or the mafia kidnap a media worker, the AJSC does not release any statements. This might make these groups increase the amount of ransom needed. Instead, AJSC uses “non-conventional methods” to deal with each case under such “non-conventional circumstances” as Sharifi explained.
Key success achieved by AJSC
The AJSC works on providing local and psychosocial support to journalist and media organizations, as well as supporting media female workers. 70 percent of media workers are traumatized and thus they need counseling.
The traditions in Afghanistan limits women from working in general and working in media in particular. AJSC has helped so far in supporting one lady to work as a TV presenter who works exclusively on women’s journalism. It also has a female coordinator in Kabul and two others in another two big cities. They highlight female journalists’ cases.
Moreover, AJSC does not see safety as an abstract issue. Rather, they consider it broadly as ethics of journalism. “When a journalist violates the laws, we do nothing,” Sharifi says. “Journalists must be aware about the governing laws and abide by them properly”.
Text: Kholoud Helmi
Photo: Jenni Toivonen