Afghanistan forbids reporting attacks during election

New York, August 19, 2009–The Afghan government should lift orders issued Tuesday for a media blackout on election-related violence during Thursday’s presidential polls, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Afghanistan’s National Security Council released a statement through the Foreign Ministry Tuesday and official spokesmen contacted news bureaus by telephone to discourage reporting on violent incidents from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, according to local and international news reports. Taliban militant attacks have escalated with the approach of the ballot. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, who is running for a second term, said information about militants targeting voters would have a negative effect on turnout, the reports said. The Interior Ministry issued a second decree the same day that asked journalists to stay away from attack sites, according to Reuters.

“Censoring press coverage on election day goes directly against the spirit of the democratic process Afghanistan is seeking to uphold,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “If violence occurs it’s the media’s job to report it. These orders should be revoked immediately and journalists must be allowed to work freely on polling day.”

The English translation of the Foreign Ministry’s statement–geared toward the international media–was couched as a request, reports said. Yet the Dari original local journalists received “makes clear that it is seriously forbidden to report and publish photographs on violence and to predict that there will be attacks,” the Pajhwok Afghan News agency said in a statement posted today on their Web site. It was unclear how the prohibition would be enforced.

Local journalists widely condemned the directives, according to local and international reports. Taliban spokesmen frequently warn of strikes and claim responsibility for attacks through the media. Yet some commentators fear journalists may exaggerate Taliban assaults to attract viewers, news reports said.

In separate developments, police beat several reporters at the scenes of a suicide bombing on Tuesday and during a confrontation with gunmen in a Kabul bank on Wednesday; at least one photographer’s camera was broken, according to international news reports. Reuters said police briefly detained two journalists from Afghanistan’s private Tolo TV station on Wednesday.