Afghanistan will block internet sites with sexual or violent content, a minister said on Thursday, but the government denied the ban was another attempt at censorship or would include the Taliban's website.
The Afghan government said this week it would clarify new restrictions on news coverage of Taliban strikes after widespread criticism of the plan by media rights groups and some of its most important allies, including the United States. Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) spy agency summoned journalists on Monday to outline the new restrictions, but a day later the government hinted it might row back from some of the more draconian measures. Information and Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen said the new internet bans were not linked to media freedom issues. “We have specified that four sites which announce sexual issues, drug trafficking and cultivation, violence issues — like making bombs and gambling — must be banned,” he told Reuters. “There were complaints from the families and the intention is to stop the seduction of the youth generation,” Raheen said. The communication ministry was working with internet providers to impose the ban, a ministry official said. Raheen said he had not ordered a ban on a website the Taliban uses. The site normally shows footage of Taliban attacks, including suicide raids, as well as military and political statements. It has not been possible to access site for several days.
The Taliban, who also criticised the government's plan to restrict television coverage of attacks, say the site has been blocked. The Islamists, ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, banned television, the internet, music and even kite-flying while they were in power from 1996. Raheen said the government had not yet drawn up the guidelines for coverage of attacks. The NDS had threatened to arrest anyone filming while attacks were under way but President Hamid Karzai's spokesman promised the guidelines would not amount to “censorship”. The goal would be to prevent insurgents from using live media reports to get tactical information, and to keep journalists themselves out of danger at the scene of violence, Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer said without elaborating. Taliban fighters have staged several major commando-style attacks in Kabul and other cities in the past year. Suicide bombers killed 16 people, including Indian government officials and an Italian diplomat, in a bold attack in downtown Kabul last Friday. Vivid images were broadcast worldwide during the attack.