European nations missions in Afghanistan in a statement on World Press Freedom Day said that journalists should be protected and the campaign of violence against journalists and media professionals must end.
“Those who commit acts of violence and murder against workers in the sector must be brought to justice,” the statement said.
The statement said that the EU missions in Afghanistan recognize that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk and that the impunity for such crimes remains a serious challenge and creates a chilling environment, limiting the media sector’s ability to operate freely.
“Afghanistan’s free and independent media sector has been hard won. Many Afghans have sacrificed their time, their energy, their money and, for some, their lives to build this crucial public good. We pledge our continued support in defence of a free and independent Afghan media. It must be defended," the statement said.
The EU missions said that “vibrant media sector is one of the country’s greatest success stories of the last two decades.”
A free and independent media and a strong media sector is an essential part of an inclusive and representative Afghanistan, the statement said.
It added that free, safe and independent journalists and media organisations are necessary to help tackle corruption and allow people to participate meaningfully in democracy with access to accurate and trustworthy information.
The media is integral to building public support, creating a shared understanding and support for peace and any future political settlement to the conflict, holding to account those who would oppose peace for their own narrow political ends, the statement stated.
“As Afghanistan’s international friends and partners, we reaffirm our commitment to stand by its journalists and the media sector. We continue to support Afghan journalists, to stand up for their rights, and to oppose undue restrictions on their work,” the statement concluded.
On February 15, the UN mission in Afghanistan in a report said that at least 11 human defenders and media workers were killed in targeted attacks in the country from 12 September 2020 when the peace negotiations started in Doha through to 31 January 2021.
The report says human rights and media space have contracted as a result, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes and communities with hopes it will improve their safety.
Many, including high profile personalities, have fled the country, the report says, adding that the killings have had the broader impact across society of also diminishing expectations around efforts towards peace.
The report records a total of 65 human rights defenders and media professionals killed in the period from 1 January 2018 to 31 January 2021, 32 from the human rights sector and 33 from the media. Of these, 11 (five human rights defenders and six media) were killed in the four-month period from 1 October 2020 to 31 January 2021 alone.