Afghan President Hamid Karzai will replace four people at the national human rights commission to bring fresh blood into the group, and not because he is seeking to remove some of his most outspoken critics, his spokesman said on Friday.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is appointed by the state but acts independently. Any move by the government to oust its workers could raise questions about the state's commitment to protecting human rights.
Aimal Faizi, chief spokesman at the president's office, said Ahmad Nader Nadery, Ahmad Fahim Hakim, and Moulawee Ghulam Mohamad Ghareb will leave the commission after serving two 5-year terms.
A fourth commissioner, Hamida Barmaki, was killed in a suicide attack on a supermarket in Kabul in early 2011 and would need to be replaced as well, he added.
Faizi denied reports that the three men will be replaced because of a report by the rights commission detailing war atrocities over the past three decades, which is expected to be released in early 2012.
The president is authorised by law to extend or not extend their mission if he wants to. We just want fresh people, new people, Faizi told Reuters.
The fact that they were working on a report on war atrocities has nothing to do with it because we cannot stop the publication of such a report.
He said the president would announce the new commissioners in coming days.
Nadery and his colleagues have been frank in the past speaking out on issues plaguing war-torn Afghanistan, from women's rights, land grabs, child labour, civilian deaths by Taliban and NATO forces, to the fraud-marred presidential election in 2009.
Nadery said the government was violating procedures which require a consultative process before appointments in the human rights body are made or dismissed.
I'm waiting for an official letter or decree to see what exactly the reason for my dismissal was, he said.
Depending on who is appointed to replace them, the activists' removal could be seen as a blow to Afghanistan's human rights campaigners.
It may also undermine international efforts to foster good governance in the country, combat corruption and strengthen the rule of law as the West is preparing to withdraw the last of its combat troops by the end of 2014.
Karzai's government has also been seeking to negotiate a deal with the hardline Islamist Taliban, which many activists say could compromise the progress made in securing rights of women and other minorities in the past 10 years.
(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)