Published on
The Guardian/UK

Afghanistan Calls for Media Blackout Ahead of Election

Offical say that reporting of violence would create a climate of fear and keep voters away

Mark Tran

has ordered all journalists not to report incidents of violence during
tomorrow's presidential election amid fears that such coverage will
deter people from voting.

Two decrees were issued, one from the
foreign ministry banning all broadcasts of information about violence
while polls were open, and the other from the interior ministry
requiring reporters to keep away from the scene of any attacks.

the English version of the foreign ministry's decree spoke of a
"request", the version in Dari, one of Afghanistan's official
languages, said reporting on violence during the election would be
"strictly forbidden".

"We have taken this decision in the
national interest of Afghanistan in order to encourage people and raise
their morale to come out and vote," Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for
President Hamid Karzai, told Reuters.

"This decision will control
the negative impact of the media. If something happens, this will
prevent them from exaggerating it, so that people will not be
frightened to come out and vote."

It was unclear how the
government intended to enforce the ban and Rachel Reid, the Afghanistan
researcher for Human Rights Watch, said freedom of expression is
enshrined in the Afghan constitution. The head of the Afghan
Independent Journalists' Association (AIJA) said the decrees would not
stop Afghan and foreign journalists from providing information to the
public during the crucial election period.

"It shows the weakness
of the government and we condemn such moves to deprive people from
accessing news," Rahimullah Samander said.

Taliban militants have
vowed to disrupt the election and authorities fear reports of violence
on election day could intimidate those wanting to vote and damage the
credibility of any result.

A suicide car bomber
killed eight people and wounded more than 50 in Kabul yesterday, one of
several attacks countrywide. Dozens of journalists were on the scene
within minutes of the blast. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has
called on Afghans to boycott the vote and one commander has reportedly
warned villagers in the south where the Taliban are strongest that
voters found with indelible ink would have their fingers cut off.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the surge in violence from the Taliban reflected a deliberate campaign to intimidate voters ahead of the election. Clinton told reporters at the state department yesterday that the Taliban hope their attacks will create a climate of fear that will keep people away from the ballot boxes.

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