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Afghan Journalists Complain Of Government Pressure

While there has been an explosion in the number of media in Afghanistan, some worry that official pressure is increasing.
While there has been an explosion in the number of media in Afghanistan, some worry that official pressure is increasing.
Afghan television journalist Nasir Fayaz was freed on July 30 after spending three days in detention for allegedly insulting two government ministers on his weekly show "Haqiqat" (Truth).

Fayaz's arrest was criticized by other Afghan journalists, media rights groups, and many parliament deputies as an attempt by Afghan authorities to restrict press freedom.

But the government accused Ariana television and its journalist of "targeting national figures -- including ministers and famous persons -- through baseless accusations and insults."

In a statement, the government said that "during the cabinet meeting it was agreed that the mentioned person [Fayaz] be referred to the Attorney-General's Office and be legally pursued."

Fayaz was first summoned on July 28 to the office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) before his three-day detention.

The TV host was released after his case was debated in parliament on July 30 and several legislators, including Yunos Qanuni, the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), called for his immediate release.

Legislator Kabir Ranjbar accused the NDS of violating the Afghan Constitution by arresting Fayaz. "I stand for the law, I stand for the constitution," Ranjbar said. "It is possible that [Fayaz] has made a mistake, but it is up to the courts to find out. But the manner in which this action was conducted was inappropriate. The head of the [NDS] should be summoned to parliament to explain why the constitution was violated."

Fayaz had reportedly criticized Commerce Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang and Water and Energy Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan on his program.

According to the government statement, Ismail Khan said Fayaz asked him to supply 24-hour electricity to his home, but the minister refused. Electricity is rationed in Kabul. The statement alleges that Fayaz insulted Ismail Khan after his "energy" request was rejected.

Ariana TV, however, said the weekly program was based on interviews and analysis about the security situation, politics, and culture in Afghanistan over the past four years.

Media Under Attack From Officials, Conservatives

The explosion in the number of independent media outlets is often cited as one of Afghanistan's greatest achievements since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime in 2001. Hundreds of newspapers, television stations, and radio stations have sprung up in the last seven years.

But some Afghan journalists say that in recent years, government officials have begun putting pressure on the media and are intimidating journalists in an effort to prevent them from exposing government corruption or alleged links to drug traffickers.

Conservatives have attacked Afghan television for showing racy Indian soap operas.
Meanwhile, conservative officials and influential religious leaders have attacked the media for producing "anti-Islamic and immoral" programs.

Afghanistan's Religious Council has condemned several television stations, including Ariana, Noorin, and Tolo for broadcasting foreign -- mostly Indian -- television programs that the council deems "immoral."

In March, Tolo television was "strongly condemned" by the Information and Culture Ministry for airing footage of men and women dancing together at a film-awards ceremony. The ministry accused Tolo of showing a program that was "against the beliefs and traditions of the Islamic society of Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, journalist Parwez Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death for downloading and distributing a text from the Internet that harshly criticizes Islam's treatment of women. Kambakhsh has been in jail since October and is appealing his case.

Faiz ul-Rahman Orya, the chief editor of the weekly "Iroda," tells RFE/RL that Afghan journalists have less freedom than they had six or seven years ago.

Orya says his colleagues often choose to self-censor their reports because they fear retaliation, reprisals, and possible arrest from upset government officials.

"It is the top level of government officials that arrest, threaten, and insult journalists," Orya says. "They deny journalists access to information and put pressure on journalists, using all kinds of methods. The top-level government officials that have violated the law don't want journalists to write about their actions."

On top of what Afghan journalists refer to as "government pressure," they also have to deal with the war-torn country's other harsh realities, such as pressure from powerful former warlords, drug dealers, as well as hard-line officials.

Female radio journalist Zakia Zaki was shot dead in June 2007 in the northern Parwan Province in what Afghan authorities called "an act of terrorism."

A week prior to Zaki's killing, TV moderator Sanga Amach was killed near her home in Kabul. She was reportedly killed by some of her male relatives who disliked women's participation in the media.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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