Editor Jailed Over Cartoon

Prominent Kabul editor imprisoned for cartoon that appears to lampoon President Karzai

Editor Jailed Over Cartoon

Prominent Kabul editor imprisoned for cartoon that appears to lampoon President Karzai

The editor of an independent Kabul weekly newspaper has been jailed after his paper published a cartoon, which seemed to poke fun at Afghan president Hamed Karzai, staff at his newspaper told IWPR.


Abdul Ghafoor Itiqad, editor-in-chief of the weekly Farda, told this reporter in his prison cell this week that he had been jailed for a week on the orders of defence minister Mohammad Qaseem Fahim. The editor is being held in a tiny cell along with eight other inmates, some of them convicted criminals and at least one a murderer.


"According to the media law I am not guilty," Itiqad said." The minister of defence illegally ordered prosecutors to arrest me and imprison me for a week.


"I am sure President Karzai would have been happy to see this cartoon, as he has declared himself in favour of freedom of the press."


The cartoon showed Karzai playing the piano and the finance minister Ashraf Ghani playing drums while the head of the national bank was scattering dollars to representatives of the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.


There has been growing criticism from Afghan officials and media over the way the UN and NGOs are spending the bulk of the 1.3 billion dollars of international aid recently allocated to Afghanistan, and calls for the government to press for more control over how the money is spent.


"The prosecutor asked me why I had shown Karzai playing music, and said I should apologise," Itiqad said. "I replied that if you believe in democracy and freedom, then everybody is the same, whether president or an ordinary member of the public.


"Playing music is a human right, and is not against Islam, therefore I will not apologise and have no regrets."


The deputy minister of information and culture, Abdul Hameed Mubarez, called for the justice authorities to take a softer line against the country's fledgling media. "Some of our authorities are not familiar with such cartoons, it is the first time such things have been published, perhaps they will gradually get used to the idea," he told IWPR.


Reporters at Farda said the editor's arrest may have been a delayed reaction to a series of six hard-hitting cartoons in the previous issue contrasting the lives of the poor, the vast majority of the country, and the rich. Among other things they contrasted the poor electricity supply for most people with the rich powering their satellite antennae and electric heaters.


Farda, which began publishing eight months ago, is funded by Itiqad from the profits of his pharmaceutical imports business and advertising, though rates are low in Afghanistan.


The arrest came a day after representatives of civil society across Afghanistan, including journalists and human rights activists, called at a meeting in Kabul for strong guarantees for freedom of expression to be included in the new state constitution currently being drafted by a broad-based commission.


Some other publications in Kabul are being warned for their reporting. The chief editor of Anis, a government-owned paper, and the independent weekly Mashal-e-Democracy said they received anonymous telephone threats after publishing articles critical of the government.


The situation appears to be much worse in the provinces, where papers including government-owned publications have spoken of being threatened by local commanders for their reporting, while others are subject to heavy censorship by local authorities. Some large provinces, such as Kandahar and Herat, are run by powerful warlords outside the control of the central government in Kabul.


Najibullah, an independent journalist operating in three southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Zabol, told IWPR during a recent visit to Kabul that there were virtually no independent publications or press freedom in the regions. He said the editor of Tolu-e-Afghan, a government publication, had received death threats after publishing an anonymous article accusing senior officials in the customs department of corruption.


Another journalist from Herat province, Yahya Abdullah, said that despite high hopes that press freedom would return in the region with the collapse of the Taleban, the situation had in fact got worse since their departure. Ironically, the paper Aurang Hashtum, which was published during the Taleban period, had been closed down by the local authorities because it continued to report on everyday social and economic problems.


Rahimullah Samander is an IWPR staff reporter and editor. Shoib Safi, an independent journalist in Kabul, contributed to this report.


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