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Delegates, Journalists Report Threats, Intimidation

By Lailuma Sadid

A variety of delegates and the editors of two prominent newspapers confirmed to IWPR that they were threatened, either directly or indirectly.


As the assembly drew to a close, Amnesty International said in a statement that dominance of the proceedings by strong political and armed factional leaders and the absence of the rule of law in many parts of the country contributed to an atmosphere of insecurity for delegates who wished to act independently of powerful political groups.


The human-rights group said some delegates fear for the safety of their families and for their own lives, especially after they return home at the end of the proceedings.


Amnesty International said that it is absolutely essential that freedom of expression is ensured in Afghanistan. In its statement, the group said it is particularly worrying that even the elected leadership of the Loya Jirga was involved in curtailing freedom of speech during the meetings.


Amnesty referred to the case of the petition which was circulated calling for the official name of the country to be changed from the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” to the “Republic of Afghanistan”. The petition gained over 151 signatures, but Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, the chairman of the Loya Jirga, refused to allow a vote on the issue and publicly called those who had sponsored the idea as “infidels”. Amnesty said it was concerned that such statements could place the sponsors of the petition in serious danger.


However, the English-language government newspaper, the Kabul Times, quoted the head of the Loya Jirga drafting commission secretariat, Dr. Farouq Wardak, as saying that Mujaddidi and those in charge of the Loya Jirga had themselves been threatened with death by “a number of adventurists who always disrupt proceedings”. Wardak said this had been brought to the attention of the interior ministry, but officials at the ministry told IWPR they had no information about such threats.


Siamak Herawi, editor-in-chief, of the Dari-language government daily, Anis, told IWPR that he had been threatened by 12 people on the telephone. “I knew two or three of them”, he said.


Herawi said the threats were from people who said they most disliked an article in Anis about pressure from jihadi groups on the process of the constitution's approval.


“During the Loya Jirga the gunmen and jihadi leaders didn’t like the reports we were publishing”, Herawi said. “They threatened me saying, ‘If you do not stop the way you are carrying on with Anis, it will cost you your life’”.


Malalai Joya, a young woman delegate from Farah Province who early on in the proceedings caused a major stir by making an outspoken address in which she referred to mujahedin leaders as “criminals”, also said she was threatened. Joya said she didn't fear the threats, but was given an armed guard just in case.


Waqif Hakimi, the editor of the Mujahed newspaper and a member of Jamiat-e-Islami who is a delegate from Kabul, said he too had been threatened. Complaining about pressure from government ministers, Hakimi said, “If delegates wanted to abstain from voting on an article, ministers directly interfered. We as delegates did not have the right to voice our ideas.”


Hakimi also said, “The minister of Haj and Awqaf [Pilgrimage and Pious Foundations] did not let me speak. He grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, showing that the government visibly interfered to make people silent.”


Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the minister of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, denied accusations against the government. “I do not know what delegates complaining about interference by the government are referring to”, said Atmar.


The head of the independent Human Rights Commission for Afghanistan, Sima Samar, said that some delegates who had been threatened hadn’t even dared to send a letter of complaint to her commission so that she could take action to try to stop the threats. “We are sorry to say that this is the truth, and these things happen in Afghanistan”, said Samar.


According to Loya Jirga spokeswoman Safia Siddiqi, “Everybody has independent political ideas, which one can expose. This is not revolt. It’s the political right of every individual. But people have to obey the rules of the Loya Jirga, otherwise there will be chaos.”


Siddiqi added, “Some people cause chaos, and when this continues, the controversy increases. We do not accept these threats and we reject them.”


Sima Joyenda, a woman delegate from Ghor province, said: “Our Pashtun brothers do not want other tribes to exist. They think that Afghanistan is theirs. They do not want national unity. People who suggest otherwise are threatened.”


A woman delegate, who didn’t want her name to be used, summed up her thoughts to IWPR by saying, “When we came to the Loya Jirga, we felt that the demands of all delegates would be heeded, but on the contrary only the opinions of a few were considered”.


Lailuma Sadid is an independent journalist in Kabul, who is participating in IWPR’s Loya Jirga reporting project. Danish Karokhel, an IWPR reporter/editor in Kabul, contributed to this report.


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