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Afghanistan 21 February 2007

Letter to information minister about proposed amendments to media law

Reporters Without Borders wrote to Afghan information minister Karim Khuram today asking him to ensure that proposed amendments to the country’s media law do not violate freedom of expression.

“The media law that was adopted in March 2004 was hailed as a major step forward for free expression and press freedom in Afghanistan,” the letter said. “It lifted some of the constraints on the media and played an important role in the process of national reconstruction. It would be regrettable if the efforts undertaken by the authorities in recent years were to be dealt a serious setback by amendments resulting in more censorship.”

A revision of the media law in the name of “respect for Islamic values” is due to be carried out next month. Although the proposed amendments have not yet been made public, statements by parliamentarians indicate they will result in firmer control over the content of TV programmes, which some people regard as “immoral.”Government officials have said there too many women on TV and that the women shown on screen violate Islamist dress codes and religious precepts.

The head of the Islamist party Hezb-i-Islami’s pro-government faction has said: “These programmes and these photos of half-undressed women are like a poison spreading within our society and giving people a pretext for passing over to the side of the government’s enemies.”

Opponents of the proposed amendments have recently criticised the growing number of Islamists working in the culture ministry. Abdul Jabar Baryal, one of the executives of the privately-owned TV station Ariana, said: “The spirit of modernity and freedom eludes this government of former communists and mujahideen, who want to turn the media into a propaganda machine.”

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