(Washington, DC--March 20, 2003) RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine expressed dismay about an assault on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ahmad Behzad by officials with the regional government in Herat. The assault took place yesterday while Behzad was covering the public opening of the first satellite office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This event was attended by Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, U.N. Special representative for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi and chief U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan Manoel de Almeida e Silva.
Dine said, "I am dismayed by the harassment and assault of one of Radio Free Afghanistan's finest journalists. But the fact that Herat's warlord and governor Ismail Khan, his security chief Nasir Ahmad Alawi, and other Herat security personnel instigated this incident raises many questions, but offers very few answers."
According to wire service reports, Behzad was beaten and detained by Herat officials while conducting an interview with Interior Minister Jalali, during which Behzad asked questions concerning the human rights situation in Herat. Governor Khan, who has been accused by international human rights groups of killing, beating and torturing political opponents, then verbally attacked Behzad and ordered that he be removed from the room. Once outside the room, Behzad was slapped in the face by security chief Alawi, and beaten by security personnel working for Alawi before being taken to jail. Behzad was released six hours later, suffering from superficial wounds. Behzad was quoted in a report by AFP as saying, "This is a terrible thing to happen at the opening of the human rights commission and does little to ease the fears already felt by journalists in Herat."
Radio Free Afghanistan commenced broadcasting on January 30, 2002, as part of RFE/RL's response to the challenges of the September 11, 2001 attack on America and the war on terrorism. A 24-hour continuous stream of U.S. international broadcasting to Afghanistan, including programming from Radio Free Afghanistan and the Voice of America's Dari and Pashto Services, can be heard on shortwave, satellite and in Kabul on 100.5 FM. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan broadcasts are available live and on-demand on the Internet at www.rferl.org/bd/af