The day the story appeared, the reporter, Akbar Rostami, and his editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, received threatening phone calls. And men who refused to identify themselves showed up at the newspaper’s office demanding to speak to the editor. When they were turned away, they asked for detailed information about the office’s security systems. Kawa called the police, and that night two armed officers were stationed at the newsroom.
Two months later, Rostami produced another report that revealed corruption in the Ministry of Mines, based on hundreds of pages of leaked documents. Both Rostami and Kawa again received threatening, anonymous phone calls. In April, Kawa was called to the attorney general’s office to face a complaint from the mining minister. According to Afghanistan’s 2009 Media Law, the attorney general does not have the authority to summon journalists to answer a complaint until a special regulatory commission investigates. In this case, Kawa says, the protocol was not followed. “Karzai has said that freedom of speech has been his biggest success, but that’s not true because there are people in his government who are creating laws restricting access to information,” Rostami says, referring to an amendment proposed last year to the Media Law that contained vague language limiting the media’s ability to cover subjects that would jeopardize national security or Islamic values. Parliament has since shelved the amendment.
Violent attacks against journalists have increased, too, according to NAI’s Khalvatgar. From January to May of this year, 41 incidents of violence against journalists—including three deaths—were registered, compared with 21 during the same period last year. Seventy percent of those incidents were categorized as government pressure on a journalist. The others were threats, physical harassment, or beatings.
Some observers attribute the increased violence to growing tension before the 2014 election to select Karzai’s successor as president. “The attacks on the media will get worse because politicians don’t want to face problems from the media, such as the Hasht-e Sobh reports,” says Faheem Dashty, who runs Afghanistan’s National Journalist Union.
In the Hasht-e Sobh newsroom, Rostami says he’s not deterred. He acknowledges that the stress of the past several months has caused him to lose a lot of weight, but he’s at work on more investigations, which he plans to file in the coming weeks.
Kawa, his editor, is equally determined, despite the looming revenue problems his and other media outlets are facing. “We’re encouraged by the response we’ve gotten on the reports,” he says. “If I could afford to hire four more full-time investigative reporters, I would be able to publish a report like this every week.”