A day after media outlets protested over very limited access to information about government agencies, Integrity Watch Afghanistan also criticized a restriction on access to information in government institutions, at a press conference in the capital, Kabul, on Wednesdsy.
Integrity Watch Afghanistan officials, who support the Afghan media’s protests, said the Afghan government has been negligent in enforcing the law on access to information.
Sayed Akram Afzali, head of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, said there are serious restrictions on access to information in the Afghan government, and the Independent Oversight Commission on Access to Information works under the influence of the government.
“The Afghan people want to know about different things. They want to know about vital matters, how should their decisions be made, what will their future hold; it's all information,” said Afzali.
“Huge corruption cases, elections, the TAPI project, allegations of sexual abuse, expenditures by the Peace Jirga, and many other cases need to be followed up with investigative media reports with documentation provided by the Afghan government,” said Nasir Temori, a researcher from IWA.
Ainuddin Bahaduri, head of the Oversight Commission on Access to Information, has a different view regarding the claims.
“Lets provide clear evidence of how we have a connection with the government and work on government strategy,” said Bahaduri.
In a letter on Tuesday, visual and print media officials criticized what they said was a severe restriction on access to information in government agencies.
These media officials, then at a protest meeting near the Ministry of Information and Culture, said that Afghanistan has been lagging behind in recent years in providing information, and that the media is "deeply concerned" about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Amnesty International has backed the Afghan media protest and called on the Afghan government to provide information to the media.
“Afghanistan’s journalists are among the bravest in the world. Working in some of the most difficult conditions, they have faced threats, intimidation and violence for the work they do. The government must create an enabling environment, where they can carry out their work freely and without fear,” said Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International.
He added: “The government has a responsibility to not just protect journalists but provide access to information in line with Afghan laws and the country’s international obligations on the right to freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, US Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson in Kabul, has also responded to the protests criticisms.
“Information is a vital resource of any free and open society. Media use it to inform and ensure public institutions serve the people. Authorities must work with the press to make Afghan democracy stronger,” Wilson tweeted.
NATO's Civilian Representative's Office in Afghanistan has also supported the protests of media officials, calling access to information the most important feature of the democratic system.
NATO SCR in Afghanistan tweeted: “We join the voices of Afghan media and the international community in stating that safeguarding freedom of media and access to information is paramount for Afghanistan's democracy.”
President Ashraf Ghani's former national security advisor, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, also criticizes limiting access to information.
“Limiting access to information...is not consistent with our laws and values,” Haneef Atmar, former NSA said, “We fully support the rightful position of our media community and urge #Afghanistan to uphold these rights..."
“Our young democracy is defined by our Islamic and democratic values, human rights and freedom of speech inter alia. Our brave and patriotic journalists have sacrificed enormously to uphold these values,” Atmar said.
Journalists themselves also criticize the lack of access to government information.
“I feel that they themselves (government spokesman) are not aware of the content, and that there is information somewhere locked; that's why they have nothing to say to the media,” said Gete Rahimi, a journalist in Kabul.
“Our problem is more in the content of what government spokespeople share with us,” said Jawad Darwesh, another journalist in Kabul.
The Supreme Court, the Attorney General's Office, National Security, the National Procurement Authority, the Presidential Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Public Health are all entities that were accused in the statement by the media about the for restricting access to information.