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Afghanistan 20 December 2002

Editor released but cable TV operator closed in Jalalabad

Abdul Ghafur Aiteqad, publisher of the privately-owned weekly Farda (Tomorrow), was freed on 23 December after President Karzai returned to Kabul. He had been held for four days in a small cell with eight common law prisoners. The shutdown by security police in Jalalabad of that city’s only cable TV operator, on the orders of the conservative Supreme Court, has been confirmed.


20.12.02

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) expressed its grave concern today about this week’s ban by the Afghan Supreme Court on foreign TV broadcasts by the city of Jalalabad’s only cable company and the arrest of an editor who published a cartoon of President Hamid Karzai.

"Simply saying one supports press freedom does not guarantee it," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to information and culture minister Sayeed Makhdom Raheen. "We ask you to see that the editor is released and that the cable TV company can operate freely. We do not understand how a cartoon of the president and the showing foreign films undermine national security."

The Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives close to the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami party, ordered the authorities in the eastern city of Jalalabad on 18 December to stop the local Afghan Cable TV company from relaying foreign stations, especially Indian ones, which it said broadcast programmes that were "contrary to Afghan customs." Provincial officials, notably police chief Ajab Shah, has reportedly since closed down the cable operation.

Anonymous leaflets have circulated in the city in recent weeks calling for the company’s shutdown. Its director, Muhammad Humayan, told a Reporters Without Borders representative in October that the firm had already connected 600 households in the city after getting permission to operate. But he said he exercised self-censorship by not relaying stations with vulgar or obscene material.

Abdul Ghafur Aiteqad, editor of the privately-owned weekly Farda (Tomorrow), was arrested on 19 December at his office in Kabul after publishing a cartoon on 15 December showing President Karzai playing a harmonium and singing "Reconstruction! Reconstruction!" before a group of Westerners who were dancing and brandishing dollar bills.

The UN representative in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, was shown at the microphone saying: "Soon we’ll have another World Bank money-borrowing ceremony-but with interest to pay." The editor’s arrest was reportedly ordered by defence minister Marshal Mohamed Fahim.

Farda is one of 130 privately-owned publications that have sprung up in Kabul since the Taliban regime collapsed. Reporters Without Borders issued a report in October called "Press freedom a year after the fall of the Taliban."




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