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Afghanistan 20 June 2006

Government tries to reintroduce censorship about the security situation

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at recent government initiatives aimed at imposing censorship and self-censorship about the security situation and the presence of foreign troops. News media editors and executives were summoned by intelligence officials and given instructions. Then a list of banned subjects was sent out to editors.

"The media obviously have a role to play in promoting peace, but it is absolutely outrageous that the Afghan authorities should harass the privately-owned media in this manner and tell them what to say and write," the press freedom organisation said. "Criticising the Afghan authorities or the coalition forces is not the same as condoning terrorism."

Reporters Without Borders continued: "We call on President Hamid Karzai to have this list of banned subjects officially withdrawn and to make sure the intelligence services do not interfere in media content again."

The organisation added: "It is not by censoring the press that the Afghan government will resolve the security problems or put a stop to all the criticism of the warlords and corruption."

Executives and editors of some 10 Afghan news media, including Kabul Weekly, Kilid, Sibat and Tolo TV, were summoned by Hassan Fakhri, an official with the National Security Directorate (NSD) to a meeting at its Kabul headquarters on 12 June. After making a few general remarks about the role of the media, Fakhri distributed a list of bans and restrictions for the media that was signed by NSD director Amrullah Saleh. Fakhri said it could not been copied or circulated.

The media representatives present refused to accept the directive, describing it as a violation of the constitution. As a result the NSD sent a new version - with a few minor changes and no signature - out to the news media on 18 June.

The list of bans and restrictions - a copy of which has been obtained by Reporters Without Borders - deals above all with security matters and could be a result of a special meeting which President Karzai held with his security advisors on 29 May, following anti-foreigner riots in Kabul. Karzai wanted to tell the media that they should not endanger national interests.

The directive begins by ordering the media not to publish "interviews and reports which are against the presence in Afghanistan of the troops of the International Coalition forces and the ISAF [the NATO International Security Assistance Force]." It also tells journalists not to interview or film Taliban, not to read the "provocative statements of armed organizations," not to demoralize the army, not to call the Mujahideen "warlords" and not to publish "reports and interviews that are against the government’s foreign policy."

As well as issuing bans, the directive calls on the media to disclose " of the real face of terrorists" and to promote the "spirit of resistance and the bravery of the armed forces in the capital and provinces and particularly in the country’s border areas."

Reacting to media criticism, President Karzai’s spokesperson yesterday said the government had no intention of restricting the media and only wanted to "prevent the glorification of terrorism."

The Association of Independent Afghan Journalists is planning to stage a protest against the directive on 21 June. Its president, Rahimullah Samander, told Reporters Without Borders that the constitution and the press law in no way allowed such censorship. "Afghan journalists have been covering recent events in Kabul and the rest of the country very well, without sensationalism," he insisted.

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