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-  Area: 652,090 sq. km.
-  Population: 22,930,000
-  Languages: Pashto, Dari, Uzbek
-  Type of state: Transitional Islamic state
-  Interim head of state: President Hamid Karzai

Afghanistan - 2004 Annual Report

The Afghan media continued to develop but independent journalists ran afoul of old enemies in 2003: warlords, conservative judges and Taliban. The draft constitution guaranteed press freedom but provided for prison sentences for press offences. The blasphemy law continue to be the biggest menace for journalists. Two were sentenced to death for what they had written and had to flee the country.

The approximately 200 publications that have sprung up since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 were hard put to survive in a saturated market and had to rely on financial support from international organisations or political parties. One of the very few publications to be produced solely in the Pashto language, Gorbat, received permission from the authorities at the beginning of the year.
Radio stations made dramatic progress in 2003. Radio Arman (Hope) was the first commercial station to be launched by an Afghan, Saad Mohseni. It carried music and debates in which Afghans of both sexes expressed themselves freely about daily life in Kabul and Bollywood movie stars but it carefully eschewed politics. "We don’t want to be linked politically with anyone," Mohseni said. Some conservatives voiced outrage about the station because "young girls can be heard laughing on the air." But in what an Afghan journalist has called a "radio-centric" country, it quickly became the capital’s most popular station, with many more listeners than the national and international news radio stations. This development was supported by international organisations and even the US military forces, which decided in November to distribute 200,000 transistor radio throughout the country.
Television began to find a modest space in Afghans’ daily lives. National transmission of the state television station improved thanks to international support, but its programme content was still very poor, and controlled. A commercial TV station was launched in 2003 in the northern town of Shibergan. It broadcast six hours a day with programmes in four languages. Four companies were competing to obtaining the first terrestrial TV licences in Kabul.
Women journalists consolidated their place in the news media. They were finally allowed to work for radio and TV stations in northwestern Herat province on 28 January. The women’s magazine Morsal (The Rose) appeared on sale on 8 March, International Women’s Day. The Voice of Afghan Women, the first radio station targeted at female listeners, began broadcasting in Kabul the same day. Presented by five women journalists, including Djamila Moudjahed, the founder of the women’s magazine Malalai, it carried music, educational programmes, local news and practical information. Conservatives openly criticised it as "contrary to the principles of Islamic law." A second radio station presented by women, Rabia Balkhi, was launched in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on 9 March. A third one, Sahar (Dusk), was subsequently started up in Herat. Finally, the station Afghan Independent Radio was launched in the southern city of Kandahar with the support of two NGOs, Internews and ACS.
As the 2004 elections approached, the conservatives, led by the mujahideen chiefs, began to clash in the news media with the liberals, mostly Afghans who went into exile during the civil war. This war of words reflected the tensions within the Karzai administration. A publication backed by the mujahideen ran an article headlined, "The pro-westerners follow in the footsteps on the communist regime." It attacked those Afghans who "fled their country when things were at their worst and who come back today to take senior posts in the government." One of these "westernized Afghans," deputy information and culture minister Abdul Hamid Mubarez, wrote a reply in the state-owned newspaper Anis that was headlined: "Those who return from the West are this country’s true sons." The government newspaper Arman-e-Mili tried to calm things down: "Having obtained press freedom, we should not spoil the opportunity by using our pens for harmful ends that would lead out country into tribal or regional conflicts." The ban on cable television issued by the conservative-dominated supreme court in January was also a source of tension. The decision was lambasted in an article by journalist Mohammad Ali Qayam, drawing a response from supreme court member Fazal Ahmad Manawee who branded the journalist as an "infidel."
The conservatives regrouped within the political-military alliance Shura-e Nazar in 2003 and tried to exercise more control over the media. Shura-e Nazar members were virulent in their attacks on the independent media, especially when the weekly Aftab was accused of blasphemy. Their campaigns of intimidation led journalists to use considerable self-censorship when writing on issues affecting mujahideen chiefs. Provincial governors also had their own news media. For example, Gul Agha Sherzai controlled the newspaper Tolu-e-Afghan in Kandahar and Ismael Khan controlled the weekly Ittifaq-e Islam in Herat. Conservative former President Burhanuddin Rabbani supported the launching of the first commercial news agency, Indou Kouch. He also reportedly wanted to launch a commercial TV station and acquire a printing works.
The many physical attacks and threats against journalists in March and April forced the information ministry to set up a protection programme. "When a journalists fears for his safety, we immediately inform the interior ministry to obtain protection," the deputy information minister said. A spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said these incidents fostered an environment that restricted free expression. The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Abdul Ahror Romizpour, said the critical press was the target of threats from certain senior officials, politicians, warlords and mujahideen commanders. In 2003, this commission succeeded in getting a woman writer acquitted after she had been sentenced to death for blasphemy in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif by a local assembly of religious leaders for writing an article about the role of women in the next constitution.
Journalists tried creating a single independent journalists’ union at the start of the year but failed because of political conflicts, attempts to manipulate the process, and the considerable antagonism already existing between progressive journalists and members of the conservative Jamiat-e-Islami party. The editor of an independent publication exclaimed at a preparatory meeting: "I see so many warlords here that I wonder when they became journalists." On the other hand, Kabul’s first independent press club open on 29 April on the initiative of the Afghan Centre for the Promotion of Communication (ACPC).
News media were also used by Taliban groups and groups led by Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which gained strength throughout the year. The illegal radio station Sadaee Moqawemat (Voice of the Resistance) called for jihad and the death of US soldiers at the start of January. The station also issued calls from the mountainous provinces of Khost and Paktia in the east of the country for the overthrow of Hamid Karzai’s government.

New information on journalists killed before 2003
Deputy interior minister Halal Oden told Italian journalists on 6 February 2003 that three new suspects had been arrested in the November 2001 murder of four reporters, who included Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. They were said to be Afghans linked to the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda network. Cutuli’s family questioned the news. Her mother, Agata D’Amore, doubted that the investigation could have progressed in this "land that no longer belongs to anyone" but said she still hoped that "justice is done." The prosecutor’s office in Rome issued arrest warrants for the three suspects. Amrullah Salahi, a senior intelligence official, confirmed to Agence France-Presse that five new suspects had been detained since the start of 2003. They were identified as Mamur, Ajab Khan, Hamayon and Marjan Janar - all from the Sarobi region where the ambush took place - and someone called Muslim from Jalalabad. It was said that some of them had confessed to being involved in the murder and one had even been identified in confiscated video footage filmed at the scene a day after the ambush by a TV crew from the Philippines. Salahi told a Reporters Without Borders representative at the end of April there was enough evidence to charge the suspects. He said the indictment would be sent to the attorney general. But no trial had begun by the end of 2003.

Journalists imprisoned
Sayeed Mahdawi, the editor of the independent, Dari-language weekly Aftab (Le Soleil) and Ali Reza Payam, a journalist with the newspaper, were arrested in Kabul on 17 June because of a column published on 11 June that was deemed to be blasphemous. Copies of the issue were seized and the newspaper’s office was closed. With a circulation in Kabul of only several hundred, the weekly was critical of the present government and the mujahideen chiefs.
Headlined "Holy fascism," the column called for Islam to be adapted to the modern world in the drafting of Afghanistan’s new constitution, condemned the crimes committed in Islam’s name by former mujahideen chiefs, and questioned the supreme court president, a religious conservative close to warlord Abdul Sayyaf. The column also posed the question: "If Islam is the last and most complete of the revealed religions, why do the Muslim countries lag behind the modern world?"
Published at a time when debates about the nature of the new Afghan constitution were in full swing, the article caused outrage within the supreme court’s council of ulemas (religious leaders). The government asked a special commission for press freedom and news media evaluation to determine the degree of responsibility of the two journalists before referring the case to the judicial authorities. The information and culture ministry supported the claim that the column was blasphemous. "It was our duty to stop this newspaper’s publication," the deputy minister said.
The arrest of the two journalists caused an outcry in the international community. The UN secretary-general’s special representative in Afghanistan called for their "immediate release" and reform of the judicial system to better protect free expression. Mahdawi and Payam were freed by President Karzai on 25 June "pending their trial, so that they can defend themselves before the court in accordance with the country’s laws." The president said he himself had ordered their arrest in the name of his duty to "protect the constitution and the beliefs of the majority of the people."
On leaving prison, Mahdawi said, "there is no offence against Islam in our articles." The conservatives responded by calling a demonstration in which 150 Islamists condemned the release of the journalists and demanded the death sentence. Mahdawi and Payam went into hiding. The Islamist newspaper Al Islam published fatwas demanding the death penalty for Aftab’s senior staff. At the same time, the supreme court president accused the information minister of helping the two journalists leave the country and thus escape a trial for blasphemy.
Reporters Without Borders revealed on 6 August that the supreme court, in a document that had been kept secret, had also called for the death penalty for Mahdawi and Payam for blasphemy. The 10-page document, signed by the court’s president, confirmed the death penalty request made by the court’s department for fatwas. The government would have been obliged to implement this decision by the country’s highest court, although the case was already before another court, lower in hierarchy. President Karzai had transferred the case to a Kabul civil court fearing the supreme court would hold a blasphemy trial. But a supreme court justice told a Reporters Without Borders source that "this sentence is above the law." Two new warrants were issued for Mahdawi and Payam.
Mahdawi meanwhile said he did not regret what he had written. "All the news media are attacking me... I intend to tell the truth to Afghans in a book about the crimes of the warlords." Feeling threatened, Mahdawi and Payam left Afghanistan for Pakistan with their families. They were recognised in their Islamabad hotel by Afghan mujahideen, who attacked them and threatened to kill them. With the help of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, they quickly obtained asylum in a western country.

At least four journalists detained
Ahmed Shah Behzad, a correspondent for Radio Free Afghanistan (an offshoot of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe), was detained and beaten on 19 March 2003 by the bodyguards of Ismael Khan, the governor of the northwestern province of Herat. Behzad was covering the opening of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission’s branch office in Herat at the time. Irked by Behzad’s questions to various officials present, including interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the governor attacked him verbally and ordered him thrown out. Once outside, Behzad was slapped in the face by the governor’s security chief, Nasim Alawi, and was beaten up by other members of the governor’s entourage. He was then taken to a police station for questioning before being released six hours later as a result of the intervention of the interior minister (a former head of the Voice of America’s Pashto-language service).
The governor criticised press coverage of the human rights situation in Herat on 21 March, likening journalists to those who had supported the former Soviet occupiers and warning that they "could end up the same way." Behzad, a native of Herat, was ordered to leave the province within 24 hours on 24 March by Khan’s public security chief, Alawi, and was told he could not come back. About 10 international radio station correspondents, including Massod Hasanzada of Voice of America and Mohammad Qazizada of the BBC, began a strike in protest and went to Kabul to report this harassment to the central government authorities.
Several local publications, including the weekly Takasus and the monthly Shugufa, supported the protest, writing to President Karzai to ask him to intervene on behalf of press freedom in Herat. The governor told the press on 30 March that Herat was the city of all Afghans and invited the journalists to return to the province. But Behzad was again forced to flee Herat for the nearby Iranian city of Mashhad on 7 April, after further verbal threats from the governor, who told a meeting of religious leaders that journalists working for international radio stations were trying to destabilise the country and that the money they earned from "working for western media should be used to pay for the shrouds at their funerals." Behzad’s editors asked him to stay away from Herat for a month before going back.
Esmat Qani, a stringer with the Voice of America’s Pashto-language service, was detained in early April by the soldiers of Hamidullah Khan Tokhi, the governor of the southeastern province of Zabol, who said his coverage of the regional security situation was biased.
The correspondent of Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe) in Khost was detained for several days in April by militiamen of the provincial governor, Pacha Zadran, who took exception to his interviewing the governor’s opponents. He was threatened and his equipment was confiscated.
Police detained Zahoor Afghan, editor of the independent daily Erada (Decision), for five hours on 20 April after he ran a story that angered education minister Younis Qanooni and his aides. The newspaper’s 17 April edition reportedly mockingly that the minister spent only a few hours each week in his office. Afghan, who was arrested while visiting the deputy minister’s office, had previously received death threats by telephone. He was released on bail, but the threats continued and the minister said he would file a lawsuit. The minister and his deputy accused Afghan, a friend of former education minister Rasool Amin, of trying to blackmail them and of attacking them for personal gain.
While awaiting trial, Afghan had to report every day to the prosecutor’s office, where he was interrogated about his work. "Why do they ask me about my newspaper and my stories if they are supposed to prove that I tried to blackmail the deputy minister," Afghan said to a Reporters Without Borders representative. Four armed men tried to enter the newspaper’s offices on 23 April but Afghan stopped them. The 10 journalists who work at the newspaper than spent the night on the premises to prevent it being searched by force.

At least eleven journalists physically attacked
Syed Khalid Meerzada, a stringer for the news agency Reuters in Mazar-i-Sharif, was accosted, robbed and detained for several hours on 21 April 2003 by the gunmen of Commander Atta, a local strongman. They hit him several times with rifle butts and threatened him with violence because he was a "spy for foreigners." He left the country and requested refugee status at the UNHCR office in Peshawar.
The news chief and production chief of the state radio and TV broadcaster in the eastern province of Nangarhar were physically attacked by members of the plain-clothes section of the local police in the second week of April. A source told Human Rights Watch on condition on anonymity that the head of the plain-clothes police section was angry because state radio and TV did not broadcast a news report about a public meeting he had convened that day.
Abdul Samay Hamed, a writer and editor of Telaya (a magazine published in Mazar-i-Sharif), was the target of a knife attack by two men in Kabul at the end of April after he spoke about the warlords on the BBC’s Dari-language service. The authorities in Mazar-i-Sharif had banned his magazine in 2002 for reporting about abuses by the local warlords’ militias. Hamed had to ask the information minister to intervene so that the magazine could reopen. He told the Committee to Protect Journalists: "The danger for us comes from all sides... But the No. 1 problem continues to be self-censorship, because journalists get used to not daring to criticise the authorities."
Armed men beat up Faiz-ul-Rahmon Uryo, the editor of the weekly Mash’al-e Democracy (The Flame of Democracy), on the road between Logar province and Kabul in June. He told Radio Free Afghanistan: "A car full of gunmen followed me. They forced me to stop and then threatened me with their Kalashnikovs. They hit me while shouting that I should have paid more attention before bringing out the newspaper’s most recent issue." Uryo said the attack was due to an article in issue No. 12 criticising former communist fighters and mujahideen. He reported it to the information minister who promised to investigate and to give him protection.
Six journalists with the US news media Fox Television, CBS and the New York Times were injured in an explosion while in a vehicle of the US army’s 10th Mountain Division during a military operation in the east of the country.

Journalists threatened
Sayeed Mahdawi, the editor of the weekly Aftab, began being the target of harassment and death threats in March 2003 after publishing articles that were very critical of mujahideen commanders and conservative religious leaders. A cartoon on 27 March show former President Burhanuddin Rabbani destroying houses in Kabul. The supply of electricity to Aftab’s office was cut off at the end of March on the orders of agriculture minister Hossein Anwari, who had also been criticised in the newspaper.
After running an article on mujahideen chief Abdul Sayyaf on 9 April, Mahdavi was told by an anonymous caller: "You published an article on the esteemed Sayyaf and you insulted him. You are going to pay for that... it is easy for us to kidnap you." Mahdawi, who is of Hazara origin, received another call the same day warning that all the "Hazara will be massacred." Warnings also came from the national security department (Amniat-e Melli) and the Ahmed Shah Massoud Foundation (run by conservative commanders). A conservative journalist warned Mahdavi on 14 April: "I’m the one who told them not to harm you, but now it’s more than I can handle. Be careful that you don’t regret what you do."
The death threats stepped up on 16 April. An anonymous caller told him: "We are following you like your shadow. We can kill you without any problem." Aftab had just published an article calling for a secular government in Afghanistan. When Mahdavi went to the information ministry the next day, the deputy minister gave him a letter of recommendation for the interior ministry. A senior police offer went to the newspaper’s office a few days later and offered to protect Mahdavi. But at their next meeting, the police officer told Mahdavi that protection had been denied on the orders of senior interior ministry officials who believed that he had insulted the people and Islam and should bear the consequences. Fearing that he could be murdered, Mahdavi contacted many international organisations. But on 17 June, he was arrested with one of his journalists (see above).
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist told Human Rights Watch in March he had received several threats. After he published a cartoon of President Karzai and defence minister Mohammed Fahim, gunmen visited him several times at his home and office and threatened him on behalf of the defence minister: "We can kill you, it’s easy. But we won’t. We will do something to make you hate yourself and regret what you have done." He was also threatened in March over an article about former President Rabbani. An armed mujahideen threatened him directly, while a newspaper linked to Rabbani made various accusations against him. A few weeks late, Herat governor Ismael Khan personally called him following an article criticising Khan and warned that measures would be taken against him.
A radio journalist in the eastern town of Gardez told Human Rights Watch in March that he had been harassed by a local military chief. "We are supposed to say that everything is perfect. If people are dying of hunger, we are supposed to say that everything is perfect. That’s what freedom of expression is like for us," the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Staff of the provincial TV station in the eastern city of Jalalabad went on strike from around 15 April to protest against the behaviour of armed mujahideen who entered the station’s offices and threatened its manager, Zobair Khaksar, because, they said, he was not giving their activities enough coverage.
Mirwais Afghan, the BBC World Service stringer in Kandarhar, was accosted by a soldier in the employ of the governor of neighbouring Zabul province on 18 April while he was covering fighting between the national army and the Taliban. When Afghan refused to surrender his radio equipment, the soldier fired a burst with his automatic weapon in the air. Shortly afterwards, Afghan learned that the governor had ordered his men to intimidate him. The governor had already threatened to kill him during a telephone call a few days earlier because of a report that a Taliban group had taken control of a district in Zabul province.
The office of the attorney general threatened Latifa Barakzay, editor of the magazine Saboon, with arrest in mid-April after she published photographs of Indian movie stars. She was very worried about the possibility of reprisals from conservative sectors.
A local radio correspondent in the eastern city of Jalalabad was threatened by a senior provincial police officer in the presence of witnesses on 30 April. According to Human Rights Watch, the correspondent had been covering security problems in the region, in particular, in a report coinciding with the Day of the Mujahideen, a national holiday. "Be careful what you say. It is dangerous and you are going to get hurt," the police officer allegedly said.
The satirical magazine Kalak-e-Rhaastagoy (The One Who Tells The Truth) received threatening telephone calls in June from the supporters of warlord Atta Muhammad in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Abdul Samay Hamed, who contributes to the magazine and runs a media centre in Mazar-i-Sharif, organised a meeting between the magazine’s staff and Atta Muhammad, who promised to investigate the threats.
Employees of the ministry of transport and women’s affairs threatened two journalists with the weekly Mash’al-e Democracy at the end of June after it carried reports criticising mismanagement by some senior officials.
The US State Department reported on 8 November that its embassy in Kabul had received information indicating Taliban groups were trying to take US journalists hostage in order to swap them for detainees held by the United States at its Guantanamo Bay base. The US authorities urged American journalists in Kabul to take immediate steps to protect themselves. Journalists with the US daily Christian Science Monitor escaped an apparent abduction attempt on 31 October on the road between Gardez and Khost in the east of the country. Agence France-Presse said the journalists’ vehicle was stopped by four Arab gunmen who knew its licence plate number, but the journalists were not aboard. The gunmen beat the vehicle’s driver for working for foreigners and forced him to say where the journalists lived.

Harassment and obstruction
The supreme court banned cable television on 19 January 2003. Supreme court president Mawlazi Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari told the press the ban had been imposed on religious grounds: "People have complained about pornographic and anti-Islamic films being broadcast on the cable channels. We are Afghans, Muslims, we have Islamic laws and values in our country... It is our duty to take this decision. Now it is up to the government to implement it." The police closed down Kabul’s five cable TV operators the same day.
The information and culture minister publicly opposed the ban, saying only his ministry had the power to permit or ban operators: "Our cable policy is a policy of freedom, but also a policy of respect for the new legislation we have just drafted. Obviously, channels that are anti-Islamic and contrary to Afghan traditions will be banned." Kabul’s five cable operators called the ban "unfair." Cable operators had started up in Kabul at the end of 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime, which had banned all television as contrary to Islamic teaching. Dedicated to music, sport and cinema, the cable channels quickly became very popular in Afghanistan.
On 21 January, supreme court president Shinwari called for a ban on all foreign television that could be considered "anti-Islamic." President Karzai on 27 January set up a special commission of enquiry, consisting of four ministers, to examine the nature of the programmes on the foreign cable channels. An independent journalist revealed in February that Shinwari was not qualified under the Afghan constitution to be supreme court president because he was more than 60 years old and had not studied civil law. A member of an Islamist party, he had been appointed by conservative former President Rabbani. Shinwari responded: "I think my knowledge of Islamic law is sufficient to be president of the court."
The cable TV operators resumed broadcasting the news channels BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera on 22 April, as the government prepared to publish a list of authorised TV channels. At the same time, the deputy supreme court president told a Reporters Without Borders representative that most of the population opposed the programmes carried by the cable operators. The final list of authorised channels did not include foreign music channels or those carrying US and Indian movies.
The authorities in Herat province closed the privately-owned Mutbai Aslami printing works in February, making it impossible to bring out several independent publications including the newly-created magazine of the Association of Herat Journalists. The association’s president, Ahmed Shah Behzad, said: "The provincial authorities do not confront the independent press, they do not exercise direct censorship, but they control the publications indirectly by means of the printing works, of which there are very few in Herat." The Herat authorities issued a religious decree on 1 March banning the public screening of satellite TV channels and foreign films likely to "lead to corruption or defend what has been banned." The advertising and sale of foreign films and cinema posters were also banned. Those who violated the decree would be punished "under the Islamic laws." it said. The Herat department of Islamic affairs on 5 March banned the installation of satellite dishes and the broadcasting of satellite movies throughout the province.
A mine exploded on a road near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan on 14 March, a few minutes after a BBC television crew’s vehicles went by. No one was hurt, but the incident was investigated to determine whether the BBC crew had been targeted. Police arrested nine suspects.
As a result of pressure from local mujahideen chiefs, the information department of the town of Pul-i Khmoru banned a local weekly from publishing for several weeks at the end of March. The ban was accompanied by threats against journalists who had written articles about abuses by militiamen.
Abdol Hadi Ghaffari, a journalist with the Dari-language service of the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB was fired in April for taking part in the strike by Herat journalists in support of Ahmed Shah Behzad of Radio Azadi.
Gunmen prevented a photographer with the independent daily Erada from covering a military parade in Kabul in April.
At a public meeting on 7 May, Laghman province police chief Mohammad Zamlan accused local journalists of playing up security problems in the region.
Authorities in the eastern provinces of Paktia and Baglan banned government newspapers from publishing "controversial information" in May. A journalist with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting said the provincial governors wanted to avoid negative coverage of armed clashes in the region.
The government ordered the confiscation of the latest issue of the weekly Payam-e-Mujahed (Mujahideen Message) on 17 July because of an editorial calling for President Karzai’s resignation. Around a thousand copies were seized from news stands and the premises of the newspaper, a conservative weekly that supports the defence minister. The editorial accused Karzai of being a coward for apologising to the Pakistani authorities after the Pakistani embassy in Kabul was ransacked. The newspaper decided on 26 July not to publish its next issue in protest against the "illegal seizure." At the same time, the deputy information minister denied ever banning the 17 July issue and suggested that the newspaper’s staff must have collected the copies themselves.
At the end of August, the US army asked the authorities in the southeastern province of Zabo to keep Afghan and foreign journalists away from the areas where the US and Afghan armies were conducting a major operation against Taliban fighters.
Afghan Cable Centre, the only cable TV operator in Jalalabad (in the eastern province of Nangarhar), was shut down again by local authorities in the week of 22 September. Its director, Mohammed Humayun, was accused of breaking the law following supposed complaints about "shocking" content of Indian or western origin showing men and women singing and dancing together, deemed by conservatives to be contrary to Islam and Afghan culture. Humayun, who according to some reports was also threatened, denied violating any ban on the screening of "anti-Islamic" scenes. A few days later, the government set up a commission to establish whether the company broke any rules. Previously suspended by the Jalalabad authorities in December 2002, Afghan Cable Centre had around 700 subscribers and carried six news and entertainment channels.
The Dari-language government daily Arman-e-Mili stopped publishing on 11 October. Information and culture minister Sayeed Makhdoom Raheen said it was closed for budgetary reasons, because five newspapers were subsidized with public funds and they often ran the same articles and photos. "So we decided to close one of them," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying at a press conference. But editor Mirhaidar Motahar attributed the closure to the newspaper’s increasingly independent editorial line. He said it often reflected the public’s discontent with the Karzai government’s policies. He told the Kabul Press Club on 18 October the closure was also due to its refusal to run articles sent by the information ministry. He said the government had suggested to him that the newspaper should be privatised, but the closure put an end to that. As part of the newspaper’s funding came from defence minister Mohammed Fahim, the closure may also have been linked to power struggles within the government. With a print run of 5,000, Arman-e-Mili had one of the biggest circulations in Afghanistan, employing 17 journalists and around 15 other staff. In reply to a letter from Reporters Without Borders, the government said the aim of the closure was to reduce the number of state-funded newspapers and to encourage the development of provincial news media.
The constitutional commission submitted its draft of the new constitution to the authorities on 5 November for discussion and adoption in December by the Loya Jirga (traditional assembly of tribal representatives). Article 34 of the draft guaranteed press freedom but failed to stipulate that press offences can not be punishable by prison sentences. The government, for its part, still did not adopt a new press law, although the information and culture ministry had promised this since 2002

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