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(New York) - The Afghan government should immediately revoke a recently promulgated directive restricting the freedom of the press, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 12 and 19, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate (NSD), distributed a list of restrictions to Afghan journalists demanding that they curtail their reporting on the country’s deteriorating security situation.

The NSD directive states that “[I]t is important that the media must ban or restrict broadcasting those materials which deteriorate the morale of the public, cause security problems and which are against the national interest.”

“The intelligence service's restrictions are a blatant intrusion on the freedom of Afghanistan’s fledgling media,” said Sam Zarifi, research director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “These directives are an insult to the hard work and personal sacrifice of Afghan journalists who try to get the truth out to the public.”

Afghan journalists told Human Rights Watch that the NSD directive was a form of intimidation and would have a chilling effect on reporting the news.

On June 12, representatives of Afghanistan’s major media outlets were summoned to a meeting at the NSD where they first received the list of press restrictions, signed by Amrullah Saleh, the head of the NSD. On June 19, the same list was delivered to journalists’ homes and offices. This version lacked a personal signature and was accompanied by a demand that it not be copied or distributed.

The two-page directive restricts, among other things, “Those reports that aim to represent that the fighting spirit in Afghanistan’s armed forces is weak,” and “Negative propaganda, interviews and reports which are provocative or slanderous and which are against the presence [in Afghanistan] of the international coalition forces and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].” The document also told radio and television broadcasters that “News of terrorist activities must not come as the lead story of the news.”

“The Afghan media is reporting on serious security problems facing the government and the Afghan people,” Zarifi said. “The government should be coming up with real solutions to the problems, not trying to sweep problems under the rug.”

On June 19, President Hamid Karzai’s office issued a statement denying that the government has issued restrictions, instead characterizing the directive as a “request” reflecting “the need to help the nascent media sector in Afghanistan to approach the complex issue of terrorism and terrorist activities in a principled manner.”

Human Rights Watch called on President Karzai to clarify the situation by retracting the NSD directives and reiterating the right of Afghan journalists to report the news freely, as guaranteed under international law and the Afghan constitution.

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