The Committee to Protect Bloggers recently received the following statement from the BBC in response to complaints by Afghan Blogger Sohrab Kabuli that somebody has been using a BBC computer to threaten him. The statement was sent by Mike Gardner, Head of Media Relations at BBC World Service:
The BBC has met with Sohrab Kabuli – the pseudonym for the Afghan blogger – who alleges that offensive e-mails were sent from a BBC staff member in the Kabul office.
At the meeting:
* The BBC reassured Mr Kabuli that he is not under threat from any part of the BBC.
* The BBC confirmed to Mr Kabuli that the BBC found no evidence of threatening behaviour toward Mr Kabuli by any BBC staff member.
* We also stated that the BBC is clear such a communication or behaviour would contravene BBC guidelines and be unacceptable if they came from any BBC staff member.
* We assured him that we will not reveal his true identity.
The BBC also said that it treated this matter extremely seriously and conducted an investigation over a number of weeks both in London and in Kabul to ascertain whether the e-mails came from the BBC.
The BBC has concluded its investigation but has been unable to reach a definitive answer for reasons outlined below.
However we believe that evidence has been brought forward now to question the contents of the complaint and the manner in which Mr Kabuli's website was allegedly accessed from a BBC computer.
The BBC was able to establish the following facts during the investigation:
* The IP address mentioned by Sohrab Kabuli in his blog belongs to a computer located in the BBC’s Kabul office.
* The computer is not assigned to a particular individual and can be used by anybody in the office.
* The BBC is unable to confirm whether the alleged threatening message came from the machine, had a message altered or was altered on the blog to appear to have come from the PC.
* Mr Kabuli has furnished us with evidence that the IP address has been in contact with his computer.
* This contact is undisputed as the BBC had conducted a written interview with Mr Kabuli early in July, prior to the allegation. The BBC was unable to use the article. At this point Mr Kabuli threatened to lodge a complaint against the producer.
* It was at this time that allegations claiming death threats surfaced for the first time.
* The investigation has brought forward evidence that Mr Kabuli has been a frequent visitor to the BBC’s Kabul offices. He is well-known to members of staff, some of whom have a personal relationship with him. Therefore his visits to the building, including the room where the computer in question is situated, have usually been unsupervised.
* The BBC is aware that Mr Kabuli is an expert in computing and his profession has involved managing computer networks.
Despite our best efforts we have found no hard or conclusive evidence that the threat came from a member of the BBC staff. If Mr Kabuli has further evidence it will be gratefully received by the BBC.
Mr Kabuli has called for the dismissal of a particular BBC staff member. The BBC is puzzled how the dismissal of a staff member would diminish, should it exist, any perceived threat to his life. The BBC has information that the staff member worked with Mr Kabuli at a previous place of employment. This, added to the fact that Mr Kabuli is now making wild and unsubstantiated allegations against the BBC staff member, leads the BBC to be concerned at his motivations.
The BBC is now drawing a line on correspondence on this matter, unless further conclusive evidence is forthcoming.
The BBC pledges to investigate future serious complaints immediately, if the complaint is sent promptly.
In the meantime we are taking steps to tighten security on buildings, control access to work areas and ensure that non-BBC staff do not have unsupervised access to its computers.
Thanks to CPB president Curt Hopkins for his persistence on this story.