KABUL - Reporters Without Borders (RWB) is deeply saddened to learn that the Afghan journalist and intellectual Mohammad Qasim Akhgar, founder of the prestigious 8 sobh (8 a.m.) daily newspaper and winner of the 2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize, died aged 62 after a long illness.
A staunch defender of democracy, justice and free speech, he was a symbol of democratic resistance first to the Soviet occupation and then to the Taliban’s Islamic fundamentalism and obscurantism.
“My writing was censored and destroyed firstly by the Soviet Union’s self-styled democratic regime, then in Iran when the Revolutionary Guards forced me into exile and finally during the civil was between the Mujahedeen, but I always continued to write,” he told Reporters Without Borders in 2011.
“A real icon of freedom of expression has passed away,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran-Afghanistan desk. “We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and to all his colleagues and we address a special message of support to all his friends.”
A visiting Reporters Without Borders fact-finding team was received by Akhgar at his newspaper’s Kabul headquarters in June 2011. As a tribute to this journalist and ardent advocate of freedom of information, we are publishing an extract of the interview he gave us:
“The duty and goals of 8 sobh have always been clear. We are committed to peace and democracy. Between the Taliban threat on the one hand and government pressure on the other, we have a duty to resist, to set an example to intellectuals and above all to the youngest generation. We are critical of both the government and the foreigners and we defend our independence.
“We are in favor of peace but President Karzai’s proposal to reach out to the Taliban is shameful, if not to say an act of treason. Peace with the Taliban under the announced conditions would have no meaning. It’s a surrender, a submission to Taliban rule, and we don’t want that. We have clear positions on fundamental freedoms and rights. We will not stand for these rights being trivialized.
“For example, women’s rights as defined by the government are an enormous lie. When you see that no government official is accompanied by his wife on an official trip, you realize it is not sincere. You have to be sincere to defend human rights and democracy. These two concepts mean nothing without the people’s participation.
“Part of the government talks about democracy but does not want the people to participate. In their eyes, the people are sculptures with no awareness. They want to create more sculptures while we want to create a nation state. For our newspaper and its journalists, the key issue is democratic elections. They must be free and obtain the participation of an aware electorate. Our newspaper has chosen to inform the people so that they can have knowledge and can make an informed choice.” (RSF)