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Watchdog Says Afghan Government Must Act To Protect Media Gains

The proliferation of private media has been one of the bright spots in Afghanistan in the past decade.
The closure of a local radio station in southeastern Afghanistan has prompted calls for the central government to step in to protect media freedoms.

The Voice of Qalat, a radio station based in the city of Qalat in Zabul Province, was taken off the air and a number of its journalists were detained by local police on February 28.

Station director Timor Shah Shazada told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the action came after Voice of Qalat "recently aired a report on peaceful protests against the local authorities."

NAI, an independent free-media watchdog, responded on March 1 by condemning the station's closure and calling on the Afghan government to do more to prevent governors and regional officials from censoring media.

NAI head Siddiqullah Tawhidi told a press conference in Kabul that Voice of Qalat had been broadcasting "freely and independently" and that the local authorities had no right to shut it down.

"Only a court can shut down a medium," Tawhidi said. "A local governor, ministers, the police, and even the president are not allowed to stop the media. We are concerned about what has been done."


The closure was the first for Voice Of Qalat, which has received funding from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since it was founded about two years ago.

Shahzada said participants in the recent protests accused the local administration of corruption and called for the removal of Zabul Province Governor Ashraf Nasiry.

Among the participants were Zabul residents and several local members of the High Peace Council, the body tasked by the Afghan president with facilitating peace negotiations with the Taliban.

In a press release posted on its website, NAI said that several Voice of Qalat employees were detained by local police for four hours.

In comments to RFE/RL, Zabul Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar said that the ISAF, and not local authorities, were responsible for the station's closure.

Attempts to reach ISAF for comment were unsuccessful.

Changing Climate

It is unclear whether the closure of the Voice of Qalat is permanent or for what duration, if temporary. But NAI sees the development as a worrying sign for Afghan media as international forces prepare to withdraw all of most of their troops by the end of 2014.

Nearly 50 TV stations, most of them private channels, and around 100 radio stations currently operate in Afghanistan.

NAI said in its press statement that the emergence of free media in Afghanistan is one of the major successes of the last decade and that freedom of speech will be at high risk unless the Afghan government takes steps to protect this hard-won achievement.