Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today called on information and culture minister Sayeed Makhdoom Raheen to explain the closure of Afghanistan’s second most important daily, the state-owned Arman-e-Mili (National Will), which recently carried articles criticising President Hamid Karzai’s administration. The move appears to violate government undertakings regarding the independence and development of the state media.
"If this a political decision aimed at banning any criticism of the government in the state-owned press, we urge you to reverse it and to reinstate the journalists in their posts," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to the minister.
Arman-e-Mili’s last issue appeared on 11 October after the government ordered its "administrative closure" one day earlier. The information and culture minister said it was a "measure of a budgetary nature."
AFP quoted the minister as saying at a press conference: "There are currently 265 dailies, weeklies and other publications in Afghanistan. Five of them belong to the government and are subsidized by public funds, often with the same articles and the same photos. So we decided to close one of them."
But the daily’s editor in chief, Mirhaidar Motahar, claims that the closure was linked to its increasingly more independent editorial line. He said Arman-e-Mili had often reported popular discontent with government decisions.
As the newspaper received part of its financing from the defence ministry, its closure could also be linked to power struggles within the government. Defence minister Mohammed Fahim heads a major opposition current within the transition government. As Arman-e-Mili very rarely criticised Fahim, President Harmai’s associates may have suspected it of being in his pay.
Arman-e-Mili had a circulation of 5,000, one of the largest in Afghanistan. It employed 17 journalists and had some 15 other employees.