Afghanistan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

69

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

28

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

The environment for Afghanistan's fledgling media worsened slightly in 2005 as journalists faced an increase in attacks and legal harassment during the year. Article 34 of the new constitution, passed in January 2004, provides for freedom of the press and of expression. The May 2004 Press Law guarantees the right of citizens to obtain information and prohibits censorship. However, it retains broad restrictions on content that is "contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects" and "matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals." The legislation also establishes a government-appointed commission with the power to decide if journalists who contravene the law should face court prosecution or a fine. Critics of the law have alleged that its prohibition of "anti-Islamic" writings is overly vague and has led to considerable confusion within the journalistic community on what constitutes permissible content.

Media diversity and freedom are markedly higher in Kabul, and some warlords display limited tolerance for independent media in the areas under their control. A number of journalists were threatened or harassed by government ministers, politicians, and others in positions of power as a result of their reporting. In one of several cases, two reporters working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were arrested in July by intelligence services in Konar province and were detained for a week without charge. Many avoid writing about sensitive issues such as Islam, national unity, or crimes committed by specific warlords. In a high-profile case that was criticized extensively by both local and Western groups, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, editor of the monthly women's rights magazine Haqooq-i-Zan, was ordered arrested by the high court for publishing articles deemed to be "anti-Islamic." Despite the fact that the government-appointed Media Commission cleared him of blasphemy charges, he was sentenced by the high court to two years' imprisonment in October and also faced the threat of a court-issued fatwa that could have increased his sentence. Nasab was released in December, but the case is considered to have had a chilling effect on press freedom, with an accompanying rise in self-censorship. Religious conservatives also targeted the progressive Tolo TV, which had been criticized by clerics for airing programs that "oppose Islam and national values." In May, a popular female television presenter who had worked at Tolo was murdered, possibly by family members who did not approve of her job, and other program hosts received threats or were forced off the air, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Although registration requirements remain in place, authorities have granted more than 250 publication licenses, and several dozen private radio stations and eight television stations are now broadcasting, with the expansion of independent print and broadcast outlets continuing in 2005. National and local governments own or control several dozen newspapers and almost all of the electronic media, but reporting at these news outlets is generally balanced. International radio broadcasts in Dari or Pashto, such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Afghanistan, remain a key source of information for many Afghans. In the country's underdeveloped economic environment, the majority of media outlets remain dependent on the state, political parties, or international donors for financial support. However, in September 2004 the first independent radio station supported entirely by private sector funds was inaugurated in Ghazni province. Access to the internet and to satellite TV dishes remains largely unrestricted, although their use is confined predominantly to Kabul and other major cities.