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Afghan Government Bans Live Coverage Of Militant Attacks

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on February 26
(RFE/RL) -- Media and rights groups have denounced a sweeping ban announced on live coverage of militant attacks in Afghanistan.

The Afghan intelligence service on March 1 announced a ban on live news coverage showing Taliban attacks, saying such images embolden Islamist militants.

Afghan journalism and rights groups say the ban would deprive the public of up-to-date information about the security situation during attacks.

Rahimullha Samandar, head of the Afghan Journalists Association, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul that according to Afghan laws, the government can never directly censor news coverage.

"All of us are against this direct censorship by the government. This decision shows nothing but the inability of the government," Samandar said.

Ajmal Samadi, a spokesman for the civil liberties group Afghanistan Rights Monitor, said restricting freedom of expression contradicts international human rights laws and Afghanistan's constitution.

And in New York, The Associated Press’s senior managing editor for international news, John Daniszewski, said “broad, pre-emptive bans on coverage are inconsistent with a democratic society." He said that there were “many ways to cover important breaking stories without interfering with police or security operations."

Punitive Measures

Afghanistan's National Directorate Of Security (NDS) spy agency told representatives of news organizations about the ban on March 1, citing national security law.

"There is evidence that the enemy has used live filming and live broadcasts from operations in different areas where suicide attacks have occurred," said Wahid Omar, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, at a press conference in Kabul today.

"Sometimes they have identified the location of Afghan security forces and they have given directions to those who have been at the scene. That has caused a serious threat to everyone."

Journalists will be allowed to film only the aftermath of attacks, when given permission by the NDS.

It was not immediately clear how officials would impose the ban.

But NDS spokesman Said Ansari said punitive measures could be taken against journalists who do not comply.

Reuters news agency reported that journalists who film while attacks are under way will be held and their equipment seized.

Last year, the Afghan government banned reporting violence for a single day during the hours of polling in the August 20 presidential election, directing journalists to stay away from the scene of attacks until investigators could collect evidence.

The new ban was announced three days after Taliban suicide attackers struck in central Kabul in an assault that killed 16 people, around half of them foreigners.

AP quoted the NDS spokesman as saying there had been cases during the February 26 attack when television footage from the scene provided insurgents with tactical information about the counterattack launched by Afghan security forces.

And on March 1, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reported six of its service members had been killed in various attacks across the country.

The violence came as NATO-led troops are carrying out an offensive to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds in the southern province of Helmand.