Afghan authorities accuse Australian journalist of supporting armed resistance

Lynne O'Donnell. Pic: Twitter

Authorities in Afghanistan have accused an Australian journalist of supporting armed resistance in the nation and falsifying reports of mass violations and sexual slavery by government officials.

The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi came after Australian reporter Lynne O’Donnell accused the authorities of detaining her and forcing her to post a series of tweets stating her articles were false.

Mr Balkhi said: “Ms Lynne O’Donnell, upon arriving to Afghanistan, was denied a permission letter to operate due to her open support for armed resistance against the current government, and falsifying reports of mass violations and sexual slavery by government officials.

“She was informed that she will be able to stay and operate in Afghanistan if she can produce evidence to substantiate any of the claims in her report. She was assured that in line with journalistic standards, she will not be required to reveal her sources but only details of victims or other circumstantial evidence that would allow the authorities to prosecute violators of Afghanistan’s laws.

“Ms O’Donnell, when summoned by the relevant authorities to furnish proof for these claims, lied about her presence in Afghanistan. She was later discovered hiding in Kabul and taken in for questioning. During the questioning, she was again given an opportunity to furnish proof to substantiate claims in her reports of sexual slavery and mass killings by government authorities.

“She stated that she had no proof and offered to rectify the situation by tweeting an apology. Officials told here at the time that it was clear she will recant this tweet upon leaving Afghanistan and claim coercion.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi. Pic: Twitter

“However, authorities relented following Ms O’Donnel’s insistence on tweeting an apology given it was her private account. After a few hours of questioning, Ms O’Donnell was released.

“The new Afghan government remains committed to the principles of Freedom of Press and has demonstrated this commitment through its actions. In the past nine months, the government has issued more than eight hundred permission letters to foreign journalists. The government continues to welcome journalists that adhere to the principles of journalism, including impartiality and integrity during reporting.”

O’Donnell, who has since left Afghanistan, said in an article for Foreign Policy magazine, that she had travelled to Kabul to see how the country had changed since she left almost a year ago.

She wrote: “I left Afghanistan today after three days of cat-and-mouse with Taliban intelligence agents, who detained, abused, and threatened me and forced me to issue a barely literate retraction of reports they said had broken their laws and offended Afghan culture. If I did not, they said, they’d send me to jail. At one point, they surrounded me and demanded I accompany them to prison. Throughout, a man with a gun was never far away.

“Far from achieving their goal of intimidating and undermining me, they showed me what I went to find — their true face. Their brutality, arrogance, and lack of humanity. Their self-righteousness, intolerance, and misogyny. Their incompetence and their utter lack of ability to rule. Afghanistan has fallen prey to terrorists who have not and cannot make the transition from fighting force to governing body.

“Everywhere I went in the short time I was in Kabul, people told me of their fear, their loss, their disgust, their desperation. Most have no jobs, no money, no hope for their future or the future of their children. What I found was a violent peace. People are arbitrarily detained, disappeared, interrogated, beaten, killed. It could be for any reason or no reason they will ever know. The Taliban are pitting neighbor against neighbor, encouraging people to spy on and report each other. Fear is digging in, and it’s here for the long haul.”

She added that she would not be returning to Afghanistan as it would be “reckless” to do so. But she said she would not stop watching or caring.

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