Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Sometimes impact can best be measured by negative developments. This was, unfortunately, recently the case with IWPR reporter Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi.
Yaqub covers the north of Afghanistan, and throughout his nearly five-year career with IWPR he has been at the cutting edge of news reporting in the country. This has not gone unnoticed by either his fans or by those who fear his insightful reporting and his uncompromising stance.
In October, Yaqub did several pieces that demonstrate his range as a journalist. From "Melon Time in Northern Afghanistan" (published October 1) to "Afghan Strongman's Reign of Fear" (October 18), his stories have had a wide readership and major impact.
But many of his stories have ruffled feathers, and the authorities seem to have decided to retaliate. In several of his pieces, Yaqub has described problems in what is often dismissed as a peaceful part of the country, covering abuses including extortion, rape, and murder by strongmen who recognise no law but their own.
In late October, Yaqub's brother was arrested, on what Yaqub insists are trumped-up charges of distributing “anti-Islamic literature” at Balkh University. The security services were quick to use the incident to target Yaqub, who was subjected to a search of his premises and an attempt to confiscate his notebooks.
Prompt action by Afghan and international journalist organisations helped keep the authorities at bay.
Yaqub at present is out of danger, but his brother, a journalism student, remains incarcerated.
The incident recalls all too vividly Osip Mandelstam's reported comment about poetry in his native land. "In Russia, poetry is truly valued," he said. "Here they kill for it."
The heavy-handed response to investigative reporting in the north stood in contrast to the authorities' reaction to IWPR journalists in Helmand, in what is normally called the "volatile, troubled south".
Here, officials are beginning to respond positively to a more active, aggressive journalist presence, and have shown remarkable forbearance when it comes to IWPR stories.
"Another Bumper Opium Year Looms for Helmand" (October 1), was a reality check for government claims that farmers are reducing poppy production. While some media organisations reported the rosy promises of the provincial governor that tribal elders had pledged to curtail cultivation, IWPR reporters went into the districts to see the situation on the ground. The result, they found, was that farmers are planting just as much, if not more, poppy for the 2007-08 season.
Another Yaqub story about the practice of keeping young boys for entertainment and sex - "The Dancing Boys of the North" (October 10) - was read far and wide. On a trip north, Programme Director Jean MacKenzie met many officials on the local Provincial Reconstruction teams, all of whom mentioned the article favourably. One UN office reportedly circulated it to staff, and the internationals had a glimpse into a side of life they never suspected existed.
IWPR's reports continue to attract attention in the international sphere. In October alone, the programme director was contacted by US media organisations NPR and CNN, as well as by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a Danish filmmaker. All had been attracted by IWPR reports, and were seeking help and insight for their own reporting.
IWPR continues to help shape the Afghanistan story, and to bring the reporting of local journalists to a wider audience.
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