[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday expressed concern [press release] about a proposed media law in Afghanistan that would increase government authority to regulate the press. According to HRW, the new law would place greater oversight authority in the director of the High Media Council, which would also be able to influence the budgets and composition of other media-related bodies. The new law would also regulate things such as word choice in news reporting and broadcasting of foreign programs. In a press release, HRW criticized the mostly-private discussions of the proposed law that have taken place thus far, noting that the 2009 media law that is currently in force was discussed extensively with media groups and journalists before its passage. Brad Adams, Asia director for HRW, urged Afghan lawmakers to withdraw the proposal and encouraged the president to oppose the legislation:
Press freedom has been one of Afghanistan’s most important success stories since 2001. The Afghan government should be acting to solidify media gains, not seeking to placate forces hostile to free expression. Journalists are the canary in the coal mine in Afghanistan. Afghan journalists have bravely held the government accountable in key areas such as corruption and human rights. President Karzai should openly oppose any legislation that curbs media freedom.
The proposed legislation would also create a separate court system to conduct civil cases against individuals who violate media regulations. Sponsors of the bill have said they will take public opinions into consideration [AFP report] as the bill moves forward.
HRW has criticized the government’s human rights record in the past. In March the rights group called on the Afghan government to release women and girls imprisoned [JURIST report] for “moral crimes,” many of which involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence and “zina,” which is sex outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In December HRW said that the Afghan government had failed to ensure and protect human rights [JURIST report] since the Taliban government ended ten years ago. The report alleged that in the last 10 years, the Afghanistan justice system had “remain[ed] weak” and that human rights abuses were rampant in the alternative traditional justice system, where civilians are often forced to resolve disputes in Taliban courts. In July 2010 the advocacy group criticized Karzai’s integration and reconciliation efforts [JURIST report] to end the conflict with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, claiming that women’s rights were bypassed in order to reach an expedient solution. Among HRW’s criticisms was the president’s decision to sign the Shia Personal Status Law [JURIST report], which legalized rape within marriage, and his pardon of two convicted rapists.