Incident at Tolo TV Offices Marks Setback for Press Freedom

April 18, 2007

Yesterday’s incident at Tolo TV offices in Kabul (details below) marks another major setback for freedom of press in Afghanistan.

I hope to write a longer opinion piece about this later here on Safrang. For now here is a link to my earlier piece on freedom of press (or more appropriately lack thereof) in Afghanistan:

“Press Freedom in Afghanistan: A Little Bit Pregnant”

It is a critique of overly optimistic assessments of freedom of press in Afghanistan that others had offered earlier. I was hoping otherwise, but looks like I have been proven right.

I had the chance to speak with a representative of Moby Media Group (Tolo TV’s parent company) in today’s forum on Capitol Hill (which I will write about in more detail tomorrow) and he expressed his organization’s frustration with this and many other incidents of intimidation faced by press in Afghanistan.
It bears noting that this is not the first of Tolo’s run-ins with the law in Afghanistan. Willing to always push the envelope, the television was first criticized by the Supreme Court in 2003 for airing videos of women artists, and later a female VJ/host of its popular music program “Hop” was first dropped and later dead under mysterious circumstances.

This is the text of a press release by Moby Media group regarding yesterday’s incident. It is clear that the measures taken were extra-legal and in contravention of all applicable media laws and of Afghanistan’s constitution.

Tonight at about 7pm Kabul time, more than 50 armed men from the 10th District Police, under direct orders from the Attorney General, Abdul Jabar Sabet, surrounded the offices of Tolo TV in Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul Afghanistan. The Police physically entered Tolo TV premises and violently attacked staff of Tolo TV, taking three staff members of Tolo TV with them. The Tolo TV staff members, were taken directly to the Attorney General’s Office and detained.

Earlier at about 6.20pm tonight, the Attorney General, Abdul Jabar Sabet, had complained of a news clip on the 6pm Tolo TV news, which he claimed was inaccurate or misrepresented the Attorney General’s comments at an earlier press conference today. After investigating the complaint, Tolo TV management found the complaint to be invalid. The Tolo TV news clip broadcast was accurate and representative of what the Attorney General had said at the press conference.

At the time that the District 10 Police came to Tolo TV offices, they sought the detention of Hamed Haidary, who was the journalist covering the news clip mentioned above, and the “person responsible” for Tolo TV. The Police did not have any legal documentation. When asked to produce such documentation, the Deputy Commander of District 10 Police, wrote on a piece of paper the following:

To the administration of Tolo TV
In accordance with the order of the Attorney General, the responsible person for Tolo TV, and Hamed Haidary, the reporter, are required to appear at the 10th District Police Office.

Signed on behalf of the Commander of the 10th Police District, Mohammad Qasim Aminzoi

The above document was handed to Tolo TV staff, but was not accepted by legal advisors to Tolo TV as it is not valid in Law. Under the Constitution of Afghanistan, Article 38 states as follows:

Residences shall be immune from trespassing.

No one, including the state, shall have the right to enter a residence or search it without the owners permission or by order of an authoritative court, except in situations
and methods delineated by law.

In case of an evident crime, the responsible official shall enter or search a residence without prior court order. The aforementioned official, shall, after entrance or completion of search, obtain a court order within the time limit set by law.

No arrest warrants, Court orders, or other legal or written documents were produced by the 10th District Police (other than as noted above). They advised that the Attorney General had verbally ordered them to detain Tolo TV staff. When Tolo TV staff, including Tolo TV legal advisor, Mohammad Abdullah, Tolo TV Administration Manager, Siddiq Ahmadzada and Tolo TV Security Manager, Lal Mohammad, tried to reason with the Police they were physically assaulted and then dragged into Police vehicles. These three Tolo TV staff members were taken to the Attorney General’s office (not the 10th District Police Office), where they were held until public pressure forced the Attorney General to release the Tolo TV staff after about 1 hour. A number of other journalists, including 4 staff members of Associated Press who were covering the incident, were also detained without charge and allegedly assaulted and their footage allegedly confiscated.

It should also be noted that under the Media Laws of Afghanistan, all complaints about the media should, at first instance, be directed towards the Media Investigation Commission which is tasked with investigating such complaints. This Commission is then able to refer the matter to the Attorney General’s office if warranted. This procedure was not followed in this instance.

We hereby state as follows:

– the actions of the District 10 Police and the Attorney General’s office, including the Attorney General, Abdul Jabar Sabet, were a complete violation of the Constitution of Afghanistan
– the manner in which Tolo TV were physically abused and detained was completely unacceptable and against the law
– the physical transgression into Tolo TV offices is against the Constitution and the laws of Afghanistan
– the taking of Tolo TV staff to the Attorney General’s office was against the law
– the direct ordering of District Police by the Attorney General’s office is against the law
– these actions of the Attorney General’s office and the District 10 Police are not only against the rights of media enshrined in the Constitution, but also against the principles of democracy and against the national interest of Afghanistan

Further, we demand as follows:

– the immediate suspension from duty of all persons involved in this incident including the Attorney General, the Commander of the 10th District of Police and the Deputy Commander of the 10th District Police
– the creation of a commission who will be tasked with investigating this incident, to be comprised of members acceptable to the media
– the dismissal of all those found to have had any involvement in this incident which is against the laws of Afghanistan
– the prosecution to the full extent of the law of all of those found to have committed any crime

Further, Tolo TV Management would like to thank all of those people who have indicated their support for Tolo TV, including all other media organisations of Afghanistan and international organisations who have covered this event, human rights organisations, members of Parliament, unions representing journalists, the staff of Tolo TV, Lemar TV and Arman FM, all other organisations who have expressed their public support, and most of all the public of Afghanistan who have been unswerving in their support.