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Worries flare over future of free speech in Taliban talks

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KABUL: Worries that the future of freedom of speech is at stake in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban flared in the open on Monday amid media representatives in Kabul urging ‘no deal’ on free speech.

Free media advocacy group, NAI,on Monday expressed concerns that freedom of expression will not be upheld during the peace talks, calling for concrete assurances for respecting the hard-gained achievements of Afghanistan’s democratic era.

Intra-Afghan peace talks began in Qatar this week after painstaking months of negotiations between Washington and Taliban and a lengthy exchange of prisoners. Afghanistan is represented by a 21-member negotiating team meeting face to face with the Taliban leadership to negotiate a peaceful settlement to Afghanistan’s grilling conflict.

NAI group presented their demands – including ceasefire, protection of women’s rights and freedom of expression – to be noted by Afghanistan negotiators in the talks in Doha.

Mujib Khelwatgar, chief executive of free media advocacy group NAI, told a press conference here that their office conducted interviews with a number of journalists in capital Kabul and provinces.

He did not provide details about their survey, but said the survey showed a number of journalists and media outlets feared compromises on their fundamental rights in the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar.

He said journalists in the survey also demanded the two sides agree on a general ceasefire, uphold values of Islam in accordance with national laws, protect freedom and rights of women, especially “women journalists. The journalists sought protection of freedom of expression as their main demand in the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha.

Khelwatgar said the Taliban must remain committed to all media laws and access to information, saying no censorship would be acceptable.

He further added the peace talks should not be held behind closed doors but in presence of national and international media and the outcome of the talks should be shared with people at the end of each meeting.

He accused a number of government spokesmen of not sharing information with media persons these days.

He stressed that access to information was the right of Afghan people and that all government spokespersons were obliged to provide information to journalists without any discrimination.

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