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RFE/RL Reporter Forced to Leave Herat — Again

(Washington, DC–April 9, 2003) On April 7 RFE/RL correspondent Ahmad Behzad was again forced to leave the western Afghan city of Herat, under renewed pressure from Herat Governor Ismail Khan and only days after receiving assurances from Ismail Khan that he and his fellow journalists would be allowed to freely report the news.

Behzad, a reporter for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, originally left Herat with several other journalists on March 24, to protest the March 19 verbal and physical assault on Behzad by Ismail Khan and his security chief, Nasim Alawi (for more on the assault and protest, see Afghan Governor Throws RFE/RL Reporter Out of Herat). The journalists returned to Herat from Kabul on April 3, after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on March 28 and after Ismail Khan told media representatives that he was “not against any Afghan or foreign journalist, and the reporters can be assured of their safety in our town, and can report on life in this country any way they wish.”

Despite this guarantee of safety, on April 4 — only one day after Behzad returned to Herat — Ismail Khan condemned Western broadcasters to Afghanistan in a speech delivered in Herat to the Islamic Council for Solidarity of the Peoples of Afghanistan, according to the Herat newspaper “Ittifaq-i Islam.” In the speech, Ismail Khan claimed that the broadcasters are trying to destabilize the country, and asserted that “the money received for working with Western broadcasters will go toward those people’s burial shrouds [kafan in Dari].” In reaction to the threatening comments, Behzad again left Herat.

In a related development, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Dari Service correspondent Abdol Hadi Ghaffari was fired by his superiors in Mashhad, Iran because he took part in the journalists’ protest over the beating of Behzad, according to an April 6 report by the Herat News Centre. Ghaffari told the newspaper “Anis” in Kabul on March 25 that “the reason for my [participation in the protest] is my belonging to the same profession and being a journalist as everyone else is here. This action of mine is aimed at showing solidarity with other journalists.”