(RSF/IFEX) - On 20 December 2002, RSF expressed grave concern over the Afghan Supreme Court ban on foreign TV broadcasts by the city of Jalalabad's only cable television station and the arrest of the weekly "Farda"'s director, who published a cartoon of President Hamid Karzai.
"Merely stating that one supports press freedom does not guarantee it," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a letter to Information and Culture Minister Sayeed Makhdom Raheen. "We ask you to intervene to ensure the director's release and guarantee that the cable television station can operate freely. We do not understand how a cartoon of the president and the showing of foreign films undermine national security."
On 18 December, the Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives close to the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami party, ordered the authorities in the eastern city of Jalalabad to stop the local Afghan Cable TV station from relaying foreign stations, especially Indian ones, which broadcast programmes that are allegedly "contrary to Afghan customs." According to Agence France-Presse, provincial officials, notably police chief Ajab Shah, have reportedly closed down the cable television station as per the court's ruling.
Anonymous leaflets have circulated in the city in recent weeks calling for a ban on the station. Its director, Muhammad Humayan, told an RSF representative in October that the station "had already connected 600 households in the city after getting a permit from the authorities", but he said he has exercised self-censorship by not relaying vulgar or obscene material.
Abdul Ghafur Aiteqad, director of the privately-owned weekly "Farda" (Tomorrow), was arrested on 19 December at his office in Kabul. He was arrested after publishing a cartoon on 15 December showing President Karzai playing a harmonium and singing "Reconstruction! Reconstruction!", in front of a group of Westerners who were dancing and brandishing dollar bills.
The UN representative in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, was depicted in the cartoon at the microphone stating, "Soon we'll have another World Bank money-borrowing ceremony ... but with interest to pay." Defence Minister Marshal Mohamed Fahim reportedly ordered the directorâs arrest.
"Farda" is one of 130 privately-owned publications that have sprung up in Kabul since the Taliban regime collapsed. RSF issued a report in October called "Press freedom a year after the fall of the Taliban", which is available at www.rsf.org.