Tolo News – Afghanistan: deadliest nation for journalists

Since 2016, Afghanistan remains the deadliest country for journalists and media workers, according to those working in the field.

Anisa Shaheed

Kabul – Kabul province – Afghanistan, 20 January 2020. Four years ago today, seven employees of the MOBY Group, one of the biggest media companies in Afghanistan, were killed in a targeted car bombing by the Taliban in Kabul.

But since 2016, Afghanistan remains the deadliest country for journalists and media workers, according to those working in the field.

Figures by journalists’ safety organizations show that 56 journalists and media workers have been killed in different incidents since 2016.

The seven employees killed in the attack were as follows:

1. Mohammad Jawad Hussaini:

Hussaini worked for seven years as a video editor at Moby Group.

2. Zainab Mirzaee:

Mirzaee was a Dari dubbing artist at Moby Group.

3. Mehri Azizi:

Azizi worked in the graphics department at MOBY Group for five years.

4. Mariam Ibrahimi:

Ibrahimi was a dubbing artist at Moby Group for six years.

5. Mohammad Hussain:

Hussain worked as a driver for MOBY Group for six years.

6. Mohammad Ali Mohammadi:

Mohammadi worked at MOBY Group as a Dari dubbing artist five years.

7. Hussain Amiri

Amiri worked in the decoration department in MOBY Group for eight years.

“Unfortunately, four years after the killing that was done by the Taliban, the results of the investigation and the details of this crime have still not been made public,” said Reza Moeeni, head of the Reporters Without Borders organization for Afghanistan and Iran.

“The Taliban does not believe in freedom of speech. They use ugly treatment against those who work in this respect,” said Mujib Khalwatgar, head of Nai, an organization that supports open media.

Figures by press rights organizations report that 13 reporters were killed in 2016, 20 in 2017, 17 in 2018, and five in 2019 in attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“Media outlets are under threat from different areas. The reason is that Afghanistan’s media, especially the major ones, are making information public and showing realities about the society to the people,” said Abid Mashal, a reporter.

“The major threat is from terrorism and meanwhile other threats are from government officials and mafia groups and criminals. There are different causes to explain the increase in threats against media,” said Nazari Paryani, a journalist.

Tolo News – Afghanistan has over 2.5 Million drug users: Official

Officials said there is a need for more job opportunities for youth in order to curb illicit drug addiction.

Fariba Sadat

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 10 January 2019. Figures by the Ministry of Public Health reveal that Afghanistan has more than 2.5 million illicit drug users, and at least 500,000 of them are addicts.

An official at the ministry said the capacity of rehabilitation centers countrywide has increased to over 40,000 patients, from 2,000 five years ago. The official said that in order to overcome the problem, there is a need to curb drug trafficking.

“These 2.5 million are in 34 provinces of Afghanistan, mostly in villages rather than urban areas,” he said, adding: “Widespread precautionary measures are required to curb drug addiction.” He suggested that job opportunities and facilities for entertainment and sports should be provided for youth to keep them away from drugs.

Kabul has many areas where drug addicts are often seen. One of these drug addicts, Ali Reza, 28, said they have “easy access” to drugs in the city and that he became an addict when he was 13. “I want to be treated. I want to rejoin the society,” he said.

“I have not visited any rehabilitation center because people say that these centers are not providing good services,” said Nawroz, a drug addict. The presence of drug addicts in some Kabul streets has created problems for residents.

“People’s belongings are stolen. People have complaints. They are tired of them (presence of drug addicts),” said Mohammad Hussain, a Kabul resident. “There is a need for proper action by the government against drug traffickers,” said Rajab Ali, a Kabul resident.

Afghanistan has been among the world’s top illicit drug-producing countries.

Reports indicate that poppy cultivation and drug trafficking provides a big income source for the Taliban, mainly in the southern and northern parts of the country.

Tolo News – Government criticized for ‘silence’ on China’s Uighurs

Lawmakers said Afghan politicians and the government should not remain silent on such issues.

Massoud Ansar

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 17 November Some members of Afghanistan’s Ulema Council on Sunday criticized the Afghan government and politicians for “silence” on “injustice” against the Muslim community in China.

On Saturday, The New York Times in a report about “organized mass detention of Muslims in China.”

The Times said there are more than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents providing an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The report says that the leaked documents provide an inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, where the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years.

“Unfortunately, in the Muslim world, we do not have a united institution which will represent all Muslims and treat such issues from a powerful position,” said Ghairat Bahir, a Senator and member of Hizb-e-Islami party.

The report says that China’s president Xi Jinping laid the groundwork for the crackdown in a series of speeches delivered in private to officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang in April 2014, just weeks after Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31.

It adds that Xi called for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship,” and showing “absolutely no mercy.”

“Injustice against Muslims in any part of the world should not be ignored,” said Attaullah Ludin, a member of Afghanistan Ulema Council.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on this report despite repeated attempts.

MPs said that some Muslim countries, including the Afghan government, and individual politicians, are silent to protect their own interests.

“We call on the government and the international community to raise their voice against injustice towards Muslims in China,” said Keramuddin Rezazada, a lawmaker.

“There are some issues, including love for position and power, that shuts their voices,” said Abdullah Qarluq, a Senator.

Tolo News – Khalilzad Meets Ghani and Abdullah in advance of peace talks

The US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Kabul on Sunday to meet with Afghan leaders.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 27 October 2019. This is the first time the US Special Envoy for Peace Zalmay Khalilzad has been in Kabul since the peace talks were halted by US President Trump in early September.

“The meeting focused on the achievement of a lasting peace in Afghanistan, and both sides called for the reduction of violence and ceasefire by the Taliban to begin inter-Afghan talks,” said CE Abdullah’s deputy spokesman Omid Maisam.

Khalilzad also met with former President Hamid Karzai and some other Afghan politicians.

The meeting focused on reaching a permanent ceasefire and concerns over delays in talks between Afghans, with the politicians calling on the US to resume talks with the Taliban.

The Afghan government has made assurances that a comprehensive delegation is prepared for the intra-Afghan talks, and considers the ceasefire to be one of the pre-conditions to start talks.

“We have consulted with political parties and with various people and the list has been made and includes individuals who will represent the Afghan people with dignity,” said President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

Sources close to the peace talks say Khalilzad’s trip is also linked to the release of two US university professors in Kabul.

“Khalilzad’s trip has two parts, one I think is about the release of US university professors that Khalilzad talked to the Taliban about, and the second is about the talks between USA and Taliban that are likely to resume in the near future,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander.

Experts say that regional confidence-building in the peace process, and dialogue with the Afghan government over the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban, are the reasons for Khalilzad’s travel to Kabul.

“There is now serious distrust between the Taliban leadership and the USA leadership, and Mr Khalilzad’s travels to the countries involved is to restore that trust between the two sides again,” said Intazar Khadam, a peace researcher in Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad has also traveled to Belgium, France and Russia prior to his trip to Kabul, and has talked with Chinese, Russian and Pakistani representatives about the Afghan peace talks.

The Pioneer – Afghan voters head to polls amid deadly violence

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 28 September 2019. Afghans voted in presidential elections amid tight security Saturday, even as insurgents attacked polling centres in a series of blasts across the country that left at least one person dead.

The first-round vote marks the culmination of a bloody election campaign that is seen as a close race between President Ashraf Ghani and his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive.

Wary authorities placed an uneasy Kabul under partial lockdown, flooding streets with troops and banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers targeting residents as they cast their votes.

By midday, the toll appeared relatively light compared to previous elections, though Afghan national authorities provided little, if any, information about reported blasts.

One person was killed and two others wounded in an explosion near a polling centre in Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar, provincial governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said.

And at least 16 people were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar when a bomb went off at a polling station, a hospital director told AFP, while officials across the country reported several small explosions at other election sites.

The Taliban, who unleashed a string of bombings during the two-month election campaign, claimed to have hit several polling stations.

Having voted at a high school near the presidential palace in Kabul, Ghani said the most important issue was finding a leader who could bring peace to the war-torn nation.

“Our roadmap (for peace) is ready, I want the people to give us permission and legitimacy so that we pursue peace,” Ghani said.

Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many have little faith that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the fractious country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security.

Still, voters braved insurgent attacks and long queues to cast a ballot.

“I know there are security threats but bombs and attacks have become part of our everyday lives,” 55-year-old Mohiuddin, who only gave one name, told AFP.

“I am not afraid, we have to vote if we want to bring changes.” Abdullah and Ghani both claimed victory in the 2014 election, a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced then-US president Barack Obama to push for a compromise that saw Abdullah awarded the subordinate role.

“The only request I have from the election commission is that they ensure the transparency of the election because lots of people have lost their trust,” Afghan voter Sunawbar Mirzae, 23, said.

Voting in Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election was supposed to take place at some 5,000 polling centres across the country but hundreds have been closed to the abysmal security situation.

Many Afghans said voting had gone smoothly, triumphantly holding up fingers stained in indelible ink to show they had cast a ballot, but several said they had experienced problems.

“I came this early morning to cast my ballot. Unfortunately my name was not on the list,” said Ziyarat Khan, a farmer in Nangarhar. “The whole process is messy like the last time.”

Campaigning was hampered by violence from the first day, when Ghani’s running mate was targeted in a bomb-and-gun attack that left at least 20 dead.

Bloody attacks have continued to rock Afghanistan, including a Taliban bombing at a Ghani rally last week that killed at least 26 people in the central province of Parwan near Kabul.

The interior ministry says 72,000 forces will help to secure polling stations.

Election officials say this will be the cleanest election yet, with equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers to ensure the vote is fair.

Still, the US embassy in Kabul has said it is “disturbed by so many complaints about security, lack of an equal playing field and fraud” and many Afghans say they have no intention of voting, citing fraud and security fears.

Saturday’s poll was initially slated to take place in April, but was twice delayed because election workers were ill-prepared, and the US was leading a push to forge a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.

That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out and Afghanistan’s next president will likely face the daunting task of trying to strike a bargain with the Taliban.

Results are not expected until October 19. Candidates need more than 50 per cent of the vote to be declared the outright winner, or else the top two will head for a second round in November. Polls close at 3:00 pm (1030 GMT).

Tolo News – UN reports record number of Afghan civilian deaths in July

The UN says that parties must ensure compliance with their obligations under international law.

تصویر بندانگشتی

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 04 August 2019. The United Nations in Afghanistan reminds all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect civilians and to comply with their obligations under international law, as the latest UN documentation shows that civilian casualty rates returned to record high levels in the month of July.

Civilians bore the brunt of escalating violence in July, with preliminary UN findings showing that more than 1,500 civilians were killed and injured, the highest number of any month this year, and the highest number documented in a single month since May 2017, the UN said in a statement.

UN says the main driver in July was a sharp rise in civilian casualties caused by anti-government elements.

“As peace efforts have intensified in recent weeks so too has the conflict on the ground,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“I call on all parties not to ramp up military operations thinking that doing so will give them a stronger position in talks about peace,” he said. “Escalating the conflict will have one primary result: greater loss of civilian life. Now is the time to demonstrate restraint and real respect for the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians.”

UNAMA documented an increase through July in the number of disproportionate and indiscriminate Taliban attacks in urban areas against Afghan military and security objects and personnel.

According to the statement, these attacks caused great harm to civilians. On 1 July, Taliban claimed an attack on an Afghan Army logistics center in Kabul killing seven civilians and injuring 144 others.

Taliban also claimed responsibility for the 18 July attack on a Kandahar police facility resulting in seven civilians killed and 72 others injured, the statement says.

In Ghazni, on 7 July, Taliban attacked a National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility resulting in 174 civilian casualties, the vast majority of whom were injured. More than 80 of the victims were children, the UN statement says.

UNAMA remains gravely concerned by the harm done to civilians from anti-government elements’ attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the statement says. The use of IEDs by anti-government elements was responsible for more than 50 percent of civilian casualties in July.

The UN is particularly appalled by numerous incidents when anti-government elements have deliberately targeted civilians.

According to the UN report, Daesh claimed a 25 July suicide attack in Kabul against a Ministry of Mines and Petroleum bus and an explosion targeting first responders. Seven civilians were killed, including six women and a three-year-old boy, with 32 others injured.

On 19 July, eight civilians were killed and 36 injured when attackers focused on civilians at Kabul University. Deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects amounts to a war crime, the UN says in the statement.

There were several high-profile attacks in July for which no party claimed responsibility, such as the 28 July complex attack that used remote-controlled and suicide IEDs against the Green Trend offices in Kabul. In this attack, which targeted the Afghan electoral process, at least 21 civilians were killed and 50 others injured, the UN statement says.

Other types of antigovernment elements-employed IEDs that caused significant loss of civilian life during July were victim-activated pressure-plate IEDs (PPIED) that are inherently indiscriminate.

The UN report says that on 15 July, 13 civilians were killed and 40 injured, mostly women and children, when a minibus ran over a PPIED near Kandahar. On 30 July, at least 24 civilians were killed and 18 more injured when a PPIED detonated against a bus on the Kandahar-Herat highway.

Meanwhile, the UN statement says that civilian casualties from operations by Pro-Government Forces (PGFs) remain at concerning levels, mainly from air and search operations, including by NDS Special Forces that are supported by International Military Forces.

In Maiden Wardak overnight from 8 to 9 July, NDS special forces entered a medical clinic and interrogated health workers.

NDS special forces shot and killed three civilian males, two of whom worked at the clinic and one of whom was accompanying a patient.

On 19 July, in Bala Murghab district, Badghis province, pro-government forces conducted an airstrike that hit a residential home and resulted in the deaths of seven civilians, including three children and one woman, with three more civilians injured, including a baby.

The UN says that parties must ensure compliance with their obligations under international law.

UNAMA urges all parties to the conflict to strengthen their engagement with the United Nations and reminds them of their responsibility to protect civilians.

Tolo News – UN Chief outraged by Taliban attack in Kabul

The UN chief said international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

Kabul – Kabul province – Afghanistan, 03 July 2019. The Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement on Tuesday said that he is outraged and deeply saddened by the Taliban-claimed complex attack that took place on 1 July in a civilian-populated area of Kabul.

According to preliminary findings, the explosives set off at the outset of the attack caused more than 100 civilian casualties, including women and children. The explosives also damaged schools and other civilian infrastructure in the immediate vicinity.

The Secretary-General reiterates that international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks and attacks directed against civilians, and appeals to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to uphold their obligations to protect civilians.

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Afghanistan. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The attack in Kabul took place when children were arriving at nearby schools, indicating that those who planned and launched it at that time showed a reckless disregard for the safety of innocent lives.

International humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks where civilians are present and requires all parties to uphold their obligations to avoid harm to civilians at all times.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a statement on Tuesday said that the members of the mission are appalled by the Taliban attack in a civilian-populated area of Kabul on Monday, where schools, homes, media outlets and other civilian facilities were immediately nearby.

Preliminary data indicate that the complex attack began with the detonation of explosives and caused scores of civilian casualties, among them women and many children, and led to damage to schools and other civilian infrastructure.

The Tribune – Taliban kills eight election commission employees in Afghanistan

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 30 June 2019. Taliban fighters killed eight election commission employees on Saturday night inside a district centre in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, officials said on Sunday.

The employees of the Independent Election Commission were stationed at the government office in Maruf district to register voters when fighters of the hardline Islamist group launched an attack.

Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tolo News – Yamamoto asks Taliban to rescind their threat against journalists

Yamamoto says that media workers are civilians, and their rights must be protected

Kabul – Kabul province – Afghanistan, 27 June 2019. The UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Tadamichi Yamamoto, in a statement on Thursday, condemned the Taliban’s threat against Afghan media and call for it to be rescinded.

Yamamoto said that freedom of the press is critical and that civilians should never be deliberately targeted with violence.

This week the Taliban publicly threatened to turn media outlets into military targets if they did not stop commercials which the group believes is against their fighters. The group has given Afghan media a one-week deadline to stop the ads.

“I unequivocally condemn this threat and call for it to be rescinded, as words must never be met with violence. The only acceptable challenge to words is to advance a better argument,” he said.

He said that international humanitarian law, which applies to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, prohibits attacks against civilians at any time and in any place.

“Media workers are civilians, and their rights must be protected, especially their fundamental right to operate in an environment free from any threat, intimidation or undue pressure by any outside entity, including governments,” he said.

Yamamoto said that in the context of repeated threats by the Taliban, he is reminded that press freedom in Afghanistan is earned at an unbearable cost. “Many journalists have been killed in Afghanistan in calculated attacks. We cannot but feel indignation at these terrible acts,” he added.

He said that the United Nations recognizes that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, and that they remain steadfast in collaborating with our national and international partners to protect journalists and to fight against impunity.

“Let us respect our collective obligations, regardless of who threatens or subjects journalists to intimidation or violence – to take practical steps to address those forces that menace the media,” he said.

Yamamoto said that the United Nations stands in solidarity with all media workers in Afghanistan.

“We will continue to support the Afghan government, consistent with its international human rights obligations, to implement measures that improve journalist safety and that foster an open media where no voice is silenced through fear,” he concluded.

This is the second time the group is threatening Afghan media. The first time, they threatened few media outlets over their reports on the fall of the city of Kunduz in northern Kunduz province back in 2016.

The group has given a week deadline to the media outlets to stop these advertisements.

The move by the Taliban was faced with immediate criticism by media supporting organizations. However, the Afghan government has not reacted to this issue so far.

Attacks on Afghan Media

In January 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus carrying employees of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most popular private broadcaster, killing seven journalists.

The Taliban had said it bombed the bus because it claimed Tolo was producing propaganda for the US military and its allies.

Journalists in Afghanistan have been threatened or attacked not only by the Taliban but also by fighters from Daesh, government officials and powerful local figures unhappy with news coverage.

The press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 17 shows that the situation of media in Afghanistan has “worsened” as it has descended to 121 from 118 where it stood last year.

The organization has mentioned insecurity as one of the main reasons for an increase in violence against journalists in Afghanistan.

According to RSF, three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan this year.

The RSF says that for Afghanistan’s journalists, 2018 was the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

A total of 15 journalists and media workers were killed in a series of bombings that began early in the year, nine of them in a single day, the RSF says in a report on its website.

Many others were constantly threatened by the various parties to the conflict. The war imposed by the Taliban and Daesh and constant abuses by warlords and corrupt political officials constitutes a permanent threat to journalists, the media and press freedom in Afghanistan.

According to RSF, Women journalists are a favorite target and are especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda is heeded.

Tolo News – US Seeks Peace Agreement, Not Withdrawal: Khalilzad

Khalilzad says that the US is seeking a “comprehensive peace agreement” with the Taliban.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the United States is seeking a “comprehensive peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement” in its talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad apparently responded to a Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen’s remarks on Tuesday, June 18, who said that the United States has “accepted” to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan.

Taking to Twitter hours after the Taliban’s comments, Khalilzad said, they are preparing prepare for the next round of talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad said that a comprehensive peace agreement is made up of four inter-connected parts: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan negotiations that lead to a political settlement; and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

“This is a framework which the Taliban accept,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad reiterated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”