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A journalist-in-exile fights illiteracy in home country

by Archives November 18, 2008

On August 9, 2007, Afghan radio journalist and editor of KabulPress.org Kamran Mir Hazar was arrested while leaving his office.
Without being given a reason for his arrest, Hazar was held and interrogated for nine hours about his contributions to the news website. This was the second time Hazar had been incarcerated in a month’s time, and he was assured that it wouldn’t be the last if he continued to criticize the Afghan government, according to Reporters Without Borders.
A free press remains a far-off dream in Afghanistan, where the new plan for democracy has produced a weak government hungry for legitimacy and wary of media criticism.
“It’s not just that people are being punished for trying to break cultural boundaries; just discussing a policy decision can get you in trouble,” says Hazar, speaking from Norway, where he is now living in exile.
Hazar says his arrest was prompted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government’s fear of dealing with the political repercussions of a free and empowered press. “When they detained me, they were asking me questions about my offices around the country and in Berlin, meanwhile I had been working out of my living room. They’re afraid of what the media represents, just look at how they deal with dissent.”
However, anxiety and suspicion are only the roots of the government’s problems; the accountability of many of Karzai’s appointments have been drawn into question by the Afghan press, and point out that western powers have brushed over the more distasteful aspects of his government in an effort to “secure” the country. “Look into the history of some of these people, people working closely with the president, many of them are convicted criminals who’ve only been allowed to return to the country since Karzai has been in power.” Hazar argues that as democratization moves forward, it’s important it be accompanied by a system of checks and balances, designed to ensure the proper operation of government.
Hazar is also skeptical of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, which he accuses of “playing with the Afghan people and not being serious about this war.” He adds that “a British ambassador has suggested installing a ‘suitable dictator’ and many have considered negotiating with the Taliban, the very people that have been oppressing Afghans.”
In his opinion, the Afghan situation has not improved since the mission first began seven years ago, and nothing has convinced him that it’s about to get better. Hazar maintains that the Taliban remain capable and organized, and that although the war has fundamentally changed the way they operate, they can still terrorize and oppress citizens.
“It’s more than just religious extremism, it’s a lack of information and education. How can a people rise up when they can’t even read?” he said. “Literacy has been a major focus of KabulPress.org, and so far there has been no action from the government.” According to Hazar, rates of illiteracy in Afghanistan are in the 90 per cent range in some regions. To fight this epidemic, Hazar’s website has an ongoing literacy campaign, but more widespread action will be needed to ensure serious results. Moving forward, accountable governance and widespread literacy will be instrumental in the democratization of Afghanistan, says Hazar.
KabulPress.org’s other major focus is ensuring the struggles of ordinary citizens aren’t forgotten. “The philosophy of KabulPress.org is to report on the news that isn’t getting attention in the mainstream media, and to report it as honestly and widely as possible, by the people and for the people,” he said. “It is the goal of KabulPress.org to act as a forum where citizens can express their views openly without fear of persecution, to foster open dialogue, and for this I am considered a criminal by my government.”
As it stands, Afghan journalists are subjected to regulatory framework, and those who do not abide may face serious consequences. Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23 year old Afghan journalist, is currently preparing to serve a 20-year prison sentence for distributing allegedly defamatory remarks about Islam. Kambakhsh, who was originally sentenced to death, printed an article from the Internet about the role of women in the Koran.
KabulPress.org relies on a network of close to 1,000 reporters working all over the country – many working secretly for fear of persecution. Hazar continues to run the independent news website out of Norway, as Afghanistan has no national newspapers.

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