Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: March/August 2008

By IWPR

Afghanistan Project Review: Mar/Aug '08

Countdown to new reporting
project


In the last few months, IWPR Afghanistan
has been busy preparing for a new training and reporting
project in the north, after funding was received from the
governments of Norway and Sweden.



Journalists participating in IWPR’s
new project will cover topics, including security, reconstruction,
drugs, education, and other issues affecting the north.

The IWPR Kabul team has been planning the logistical details
of the project that will encompass the provinces of Balkh,
Jowzjan, Samangan, Sar-e-Pul, Faryab, Badghis, Herat, Kabul,
Wardak, Ghazni, Logar, Kapisa and Parwan.



More than 100 journalists will improve their professional
skills with a mentoring programme and intensive workshops
set to begin in October.



Another major aim of the project is to report on the northern
and western provinces of the country, which are rarely covered
by the international media.



/sites/default/files/images/legacy_images/docs/images/Afghanistan/bi_rep/helmandguys.jpgMost
media attention has been focused in the south, where conflict
has raged between insurgents and government and foreign
forces for the past two years.



Issues pertinent in the north are different from those which
IWPR encountered in Helmand province, in the south-west
of the country. Although there is a growing Taleban presence
there, security is far less precarious than it is in the
restive south.



More than 100 journalists will improve
their professional skills with a mentoring programme and
intensive workshops set to begin in October.
Journalists
participating in the new project will cover topics, including
security, reconstruction, drugs, education, and other issues
affecting the north.



In mid-July, IWPR programme director Jean MacKenzie and
project manager Abaceen Nasimi travelled to the region to
meet potential trainees and to assess the needs of the journalist
community there. They toured four provinces, where they
presented the project to government officials and media
heads, and discussed issues of press freedom and security
with journalists.
 

 


Afghanistan Project Review: Mar/Aug '08

IWPR article on sexual assault
of child prompts police sacking


Although IWPR's highly successful
and long-running Helmand project was completed in April,
IWPR reporters have continued to provide vital coverage
of human rights related issues.




In the article Rape Surrounded
by Impunity and Silence, veteran IWPR reporter Sayed Yaqub
Ibrahimi documented the case of a 12-year-old girl, Anisa,
who was raped by five armed men in her own home in the province
of Sar-e-Pul.



Normally in Afganistan, victims of sexual assaults are too
scared to speak out, for fear of rejection by the community.
On some occasions, rape victims have been rejected by their
families and even killed because of the stigma associated
with an attack.


As a result of IWPR journalist Ibrahimi's
report on the sexual assault of a young girl, a police chief
and four of his associates were sacked and are facing charges
of criminal negligence.

In spite of this, Anisa's family came forward, demanding
justice for the child, and inviting the press to report
on the case.



Ibrahimi was one of a few reporters invited to a press conference,
at which he asked difficult questions of the local police
chief and of the central government.



As a result of Ibrahimi's report, published on August 27,
the police chief and four of his associates were sacked
and are facing charges of criminal negligence.




One of the girl's alleged attackers has been arrested, while
the other four have fled the region.



IWPR's coverage of the case garnered much attention. Time
Magazine reporter Aryn Baker visited IWPR and met MacKenzie,
as well as Ibrahimi.



Baker sought the advice of MacKenzie and Ibrahimi as she
prepared for a trip to the north. Her story, Afghanistan's
Epidemic of Child Rape, appeared in Time on August 17.



[Time Magazine reporter Aryn Baker met IWPR programme
director Jean MacKenzie and project manager Abaceen Nasimi
to prepare for her trip to the north of Afghanistan.]

 

 


Afghanistan Project Review: Mar/Aug '08

IWPR article informs UN
investigation


In
May, it transpired that the reporting of IWPR journalists
in Helmand had assisted the United Nations in an investigation
into a massacre.



The article Foreign Troops Accused in Helmand Raid Massacre,
by Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Lashkar Gah,
caused a stir when it was published in December 2007.



The piece looked into the allegations of villagers in Toube,
Garmseer district, that a mixed force of foreign and Afghan
troops carried out a night-time raid in the village killing
18 civilians in a brutal attack.



Six months later, IWPR was told by a UN source that the
article was seen by a special envoy who visited Afghanistan
to investigate unlawful killings by all sides, and that
the IWPR article had informed his own report.


A UN source told IWPR that its article
on a massacre in a village had informed the report of the
UN special envoy who visited Afghanistan to investigate
unlawful killings by all sides.

At a press conference in Kabul on May 15, Philip Alston,
special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary executions, spoke of "the operation
of forces within this country that are not accountable to
any military but appear to be controlled by foreign intelligence
services.



"I have spoken with a large number of people in relation
to the operation of foreign intelligence units.



"It is clear that there are certain units operating in certain
provinces; the names are well known to those involved, and
these forces operate with what appears to be impunity."




In his preliminary written report on the findings of his
mission to Afghanistan, Alston did not give any further
information on the identity of these forces.



However, he noted there was "credible information" that
foreign intelligence operatives were working with armed
Afghans, under a shadowy command structure.



A source in the UN, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
told IWPR that some of the evidence underpinning the special
rapporteur's remarks came from the project's reporters in
Helmand.
 

 


Afghanistan Project Review: Mar/Aug '08

IWPR journalist honoured


One highlight of recent months was
when Ibrahimi, IWPR's intrepid reporter in the north, won
the Italian Journalists' Association's Journalist of the
Year award.



In
early March, he travelled to Viareggio to accept the award.



Ibrahimi is one of few journalists who have dared to report
on the rise of warlordism in the north, uncovering abuses
that local residents suffer at the hands of powerful armed
men there.



The case
of his brother, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh - who was condemned
to death by a court in Balkh in January this year for allegedly
downloading and distributing an article on women's rights
from the Internet - has also garnered much international
attention.


In March, IWPR reporter Sayed Yaqub
Ibrahimi travelled to Italy to collect the Italian Journalists'
Association's Journalist of the Year award.

The young journalism student has since had his death sentence
rescinded, yet now faces 20 years in jail for the offence.
He has consistently denied the charges against him and said
that a confession he signed while held in custody by the
National Security Directorate was coerced.



During his European tour, Ibrahimi gave a speech to Reporters
Sans Frontieres in Paris; addressed an audience of several
thousand in Brussels, and also met a number of organisations
in Amsterdam.
 

 


Afghanistan Project Review: Mar/Aug '08

Writing for IWPR in Afghanistan


In the last six months, IWPR's work
in Afghanistan - which began shortly before the fall of
the Taleban - has continued to strengthen media in the country.




Two reporters have written below about their personal experience
of working for IWPR, describing the difference it has made
to them and their lives.

Mohammad Ilyas Dayee

I have been writing stories for IWPR
for the past year, and have produced many reports on different
issues.



"If IWPR had never come to the
province, the rays of journalism would not have penetrated
so far into Helmand's gloom," said IWPR reporter Mohammad
Ilyas Dayee.
When IWPR came to Helmand in 2007, I
was working as a reporter with Salaam Watandar Radio in
Lashkar Gah, the capital.



But at that time I did not really know what news was, never
mind war reporting.



If IWPR had never come to the province, the rays of journalism
would not have penetrated so far into Helmand's gloom.



If IWPR had not come to Helmand, who would have made the
foreign forces afraid of what they were doing? Who would
have made them think, "Wait, there are media organizations
watching?



I have a good example: the report of Aziz Ahmad Tassal on
the massacre in Garmseer.



Who besides IWPR would have revealed what happened in the
village of Toube? Who would have told of the families that
were killed?



If IWPR were not in Helmand, who would have got into Taleban-controlled
Musa Qala district to tell the stories of the people living
there?



I want to say that if it were not for IWPR and their efforts
in Helmand, all these sad stories would remain untold.



"Who besides IWPR would have
revealed what happened in the village of Toube [where residents
say foreign forces massacred civilians]?" asked Dayee.

[Tassal went to Musa Qala in November last year, where
he talked to the Taleban, which had occupied the town since
February 2007. In the article Musa Qala: The Shape of Things
to Come, published on November 27, he spoke to residents
about conditions in the town.



British forces along with the Afghan National Army soon
began an attack to free Musa Qala from the Taleban. They
succeeded in pushing out the Islamic radicals and their
victory was held up as a major turning point in the war
against the insurgents.



The journalist later returned to Musa Qala to find that
while many residents were pleased to see the back of the
Taleban, they were now distrustful of government and foreign
forces.]

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

After the collapse of the Taleban
in 2001, at the very beginning of the effort to democratise
Afghanistan, many organisations were trying to establish
an infrastructure for the development of independent media
in the country.



"In October 2003, I attended
IWPR's ten-day training course in Mazar-e-Sharif, and learned
real journalism," journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi.

During the nine-year Soviet war in Afghanistan in the Eighties,
the media was dominated by the state-controlled outlets
which were seen as the regime's propaganda machines.



In the years that followed, a very weak form of journalism
began to take shape.



These were the circumstances under which I began my career
as a journalist, in a local publication in the northern
city of Mazar-e-Sharif.



It was the end of 2002, one year after the Taleban were
defeated following the US-led invasion of the country.



"What makes IWPR different from
other media development organisations is the fact that they
also implemented the theory they teach by publishing journalists'
work," said Ibrahimi.
In those days, there was no
tradition of independent media. Most of the media belonged
to one or another of the jihadi factions to be found the
country, and working in a media outlet was akin to being
a member of that group.



It was not possible to write in an impartial and multi-dimensional
way about the then current issues in the north of Afghanistan.
Most media outlets were not interested in publishing stories
that could expose them to danger. Although the north of
the country was a hot centre of news, I could not write
about all the things that were happening.



However, I made the effort to learn the basics of journalism,
and then tried to find a media outlet that would not be
afraid to publish what I wrote.



IWPR was the best opportunity for such work.



When in October 2003, I attended IWPR's ten-day training
course in Mazar-e-Sharif, I learned real journalism.



"Because of my work with IWPR,
I can say that I am now in a position that I could not even
have imagined six years ago," said Ibrahimi.
The
theory that they taught was very interesting and important,
but the thing that made IWPR different from all the other
organisations was the fact that they also implemented that
theory by publishing journalists' work.



I have now written for IWPR for more than five years. During
that time I have been threatened and have been exposed to
a lot of danger. But the courage of this media organisation
in publishing my work has given me the courage to go on.



I am very happy working with this organisation, because
now many international media outlets and institutions have
come to know me as a result.



In March 2008, I received an International Freedom of Speech
Award from the Italian Journalists' Association for my reports.
The International Federation of Journalists in Brussels
has made me an honorary member.



Because of my work with IWPR, I can say that I am now in
a position that I could not even have imagined six years
ago.