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

Afghanistan: September '07 - February ‘08

By IWPR


Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08


IWPR Reporter Uncovers Human Rights Abuses in North


 








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Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh before his arrest in October 2007. Photo by Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi.

Over the last several months, IWPR reporter Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi has made a major difference to the world’s perception of Afghanistan.



The fearless reporter has written a series of reports exposing abuses committed by former militia commanders, or warlords, in the north of Afghanistan – a subject which has largely gone unreported in other media.




As a result of his work, Ibrahimi has encountered intimidation, which has included threatening phone calls and raids on his office and home.



“The case should have been assessed by the ministry of information and culture. His file was not assessed by experts”
In late October, the security services arrested his younger brother Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh on a charge of blasphemy. In January, Parwez was handed a death sentence during a closed court session, with no legal representation.




The case sparked an outcry among human rights groups and in the world’s press, and was picked up by the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, the BBC and Reuters, among others.



“This verdict and sentence are unfair.”
Ibrahimi and Programme Director Jean MacKenzie gave several press and broadcast interviews and were widely quoted in international media.



This media attention has served to highlight concerns that Afghanistan’s legal system is flawed and susceptible to political influence. It has also increased understanding of the challenges facing President Hamed Karzai.


 



Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08

IWPR Breaks Story of Alleged Massacre in Helmand


The project continues to break important stories. In December, IWPR was the first to report on an alleged massacre in southern Helmand, prompting the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, and international media to make enquiries.


“We didn’t think anyone would care,”
In mid-November, rumours surfaced of a massacre alleged to have taken place in Garmseer, a remote and largely Taleban-controlled district in southern Helmand. Foreign troops were said to have brutally murdered over a dozen local residents, including children, during a late-night raid.




IWPR reporter Matiullah Minapal managed to get into a hospital ward to interview a survivor of the massacre, and then followed up with other interviews.




As a result of the story by Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal, the International Red Cross began asking questions about the alleged crime and mainstream international media began asking their own enquiries.
 

 



Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08


Special Report from Musa Qala


In November, IWPR trainees Aziz Ahmad Tassal and Aziz Ahmad Shafe produced a comprehensive report from Musa Qala. The small town in the north of Helmand province had become a symbol of defeat for the government and international forces when it fell to the Taleban in February 2007.


 














Parade in Musa Qala.
Reporters interview local commanders. Photos by Aziz Ahmad Tassal.



The trainees made a risky trip to the town to investigate claims that rather than suffering under the Taleban, residents there were largely grateful for the peace and security the Islamists had brought.



There the reporters met and chatted to the Taleban over cups of tea.



Their special report, which included images, interviews, and analysis which formed a comprehensive assessment of the situation, was the only genuine reporting to come out of Musa Qala since it was seized by the Taleban.



On returning from the town, the group encountered problems. One was briefly jailed, while the others were for some time sought by the police – as the authorities were apparently displeased by the articles.



The reporters went on to provide film and photos to international media – including the BBC, Al Jazeera, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, as well as to Ariana Television in Afghanistan.



Some of the photos were syndicated to Afghan national newspapers, and appeared in the Kabul Weekly and the Afghanistan Times.



The project produced a follow up special report, “Making Musa Qala Work”, in January after the town was retaken from the Taleban.

 



Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08

Independent Press Organisation Launched


“If the journalists work together with this press association, I think that the situation can become better”

A further highlight over the last six months was the launch of the Helmand Independent Journalists’ Association in February 2008, which was designed and financed with help from IWPR.



The association is the first of its kind in the province and is intended to bolster Helmand’s journalists, by giving them a place to gather and protecting their rights in this difficult environment.
 

 




Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08


IWPR Trainees Snapped Up by Media


In recent months, several IWPR trainees have been employed by local, national and international media. Trainee Ahmad Naweed Nazari is now working for national non-governmental station Shamshad TV, and also he produces a weekly radio call-in show for Helmand Radio and Television, sponsored by IWPR.


IWPR staff reporter Matiullah Minapal has been approached by private national channel Noor Television and asked to provide news and information for their programmes as well.


“Before [IWPR] training, there were no real radio journalists in Helmand”
Several IWPR trainees are assisting in a new Helmand monthly, Sistan, and others provide material for Bost, a monthly publication that covers Helmand, Kandahar, Kabul and Quetta.



This is an example of the project achieving one of its stated aims – to provide balanced news and information to the people of Helmand province so as to keep them fully informed of development in their region.

 




 




Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08


Radio Show Helmand Voices Officially Launched


In September, radio show Helmand Voices was officially launched on the IWPR website.


The stories are radio pieces produced by reporters from the southern province, under the guidance of IWPR trainers and editors.



Examples of subjects covered so far have been motorcycle fanatics in Lashkar Gah and a new midwife centre where mothers can give birth in safety.



IWPR trainees are able to access places which would be no-go areas for foreign reporters. They have recorded interviews with the Taleban and victims of suicide bombings, as well as speaking to ordinary people who have been too long ignored.



In November, radio trainer Jared Ferrie traveled to Lashkar Gah to work with IWPR trainees on producing radio features. The trainer also worked with the local state radio station to produce a live call-in show, during which government officials spoke about the counter narcotics efforts in the poppy-rich province.

“The results may not be immediate, but a dialogue has been opened that could lead to a more rational policy in Helmand, with real impact on the poppy growers of the province”

The show was inundated with callers complaining that there was no alternative to poppy; that they had to make a living; and that the government was not helping them. Slowly the officials abandoned their entrenched positions, and began to listen to the callers.



This example demonstrates how the project has successfully accomplished two of its key aims – to hold the local government to account; raise awareness among officials of their responsibilities to the population; and educate government and security officials about the role of the media in a democracy.



The lively debate generated during the show prompted the head of PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) to agree to a weekly programme. He’d previously been opposed to such live call-in shows.



The weekly slot will provide the people of Helmand with a forum in which they can voice their concerns and quiz government officials on important issues.



IWPR contributor Mohammad Hasan Hamkar produced a show for Helmand Voices on the same subject. A counter-narcotics official he interviewed predicted that there would be a fall in poppy production this year, while the farmers said they were planning a bigger crop than ever.



At the end of last year, plans were developed for a new independent weekly newspaper for Helmand, which is being supported by IWPR.


A low-level of literacy has frustrated the development of a newspaper industry in the province, which currently has only one weekly, titled Helmand. This is run and largely controlled by the government and many residents complain that the newspaper is boring and lacks genuine information.



A group of journalists who have been trained by IWPR over the past year came up with the idea for the new newspaper, and IWPR stepped in to supply training and technical expertise to help them.



In October, photographer Leslie Knott conducted a two-day workshop on news photography in Kabul, which was attended by five journalists from Lashkar Gah. Designer Felix Kuehn also held a three-day newspaper workshop with the group, teaching them layout and production skills.
 




 



Afghanistan Project Review: Sep ’07 - Feb ‘08


IWPR Media Centre Expanded


In November, IWPR also expanded its media centre, increasing the number of computers available to local journalists, and upgrading the internet connection for greater speed.



The centre has opened up the world to Helmand’s journalists. Here, television reporters have facilities to send their stories to Kabul. Prior to that, they would have had to make a dangerous, time-consuming trip to Kandahar to do so.



Journalists trained by IWPR can be found working for the principal media in Helmand and are also regularly providing material and information to the international press.


“What IWPR has done in Helmand is unforgettable. The effects of this will last forever”

“We really appreciate all that IWPR has done,” said Jan Gul Khan, the head of the department of information and culture in Helmand. “Everyone in Afghanistan now knows about the media centre, and about the work of our journalists.”



Meanwhile, local media representatives are very positive about the difference IWPR has made to the media scene in Lashkar Gah, where over 30 journalists have received training.



“Journalists are now adept at identifying stories and developing sources; the PRT has told IWPR that the local media is beginning to have an appreciable effect on local governance,” said MacKenzie.



”The local administration is getting used to reporters asking probing, often difficult, questions. Officials are in turn becoming more adept at developing a message for the media, and working with journalists as partners rather than adversaries.”



The Helmand PRT has also issued press cards to IWPR journalists, which has allowed them easier access to places and served to facilitate the flow of information between the PRT and the local community.


 


 

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