Rights Group Urges Afghanistan to Protect Press Freedom

Posted July 3rd, 2012 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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Human Rights Watch is calling on Afghanistan to withdraw a draft media law the group says will increase government control over the press and “undermine free expression.”

The New York-based group said in a statement Tuesday that the Afghan government has taken steps to undercut the work of journalists and that the draft law is the “latest threat” to access to information in the country.

Human Rights Watch and media organizations have raised concerns about several provisions in the draft law, including the creation of a special prosecutor to handle media cases, and the composition of a regulatory body to oversee the press.

The measure would also restrict foreign programming in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch said the draft raises “serious questions” about Afghan President Hamid Karzai's commitment to free expression. The group said press freedom has been one of the successes in Afghanistan during the past decade and urged the government to protect those gains.

About 100 journalists and media organization representatives gathered for a conference last week in Kabul to discuss the draft law and prepare joint comments to submit to the government.

An official at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture told the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which supported the conference, that the fears about the law were “unfounded,” and that the measure would result in “more freedom.”

Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan 150th out of 179 countries in its latest World Press Freedom Index, citing the threat of violence from extremists and political groups as a major concern for journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists criticized Afghanistan in an April report for failing to prosecute journalist murders.