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Attempt to Restrict Afghan News Media Prompts Outcry by Journalists


Afghan journalists are denouncing efforts by the country's intelligence officials to impose guidelines laying out what the officials consider acceptable topics for publication. The official want to place restrictions on such topics as criticism of international security forces in the country and the new Afghan National Army.

Local reporters say they were given the two-page guidelines earlier this week during a closed-door meeting with Afghanistan's intelligence services.

The document, marked not for distribution, details more than 20 banned subjects.

Interviews with so-called "terrorist commanders" are prohibited, as are reports suggesting that the national army is weak or vulnerable.

Reporters were also told not to criticize the government's foreign policy or foreign troops deployed inside Afghanistan.

Wednesday, local journalists led a protest rally through the capital demanding the government rescind the controversial guidelines.

Rahimullah Samander, who heads Afghanistan's Association of Independent Journalists, says the document is a clear-cut case of censorship. But he says Afghan journalists will not back down, and unless the government rescinds the order, reporters will stage more protests throughout the country.

A free and open press is protected by Afghanistan's new constitution, and the government is adamantly rejecting charges that it wants to censor the media.

President Hamid Karzai issued a statement Tuesday saying the government has only asked reporters to avoid glorifying terrorism.

The proposed guidelines themselves indicate no penalties for disobeying them, and it is still unclear who authorized their distribution.

Independent media have grown significantly across Afghanistan since the Islamist Taleban regime was ousted in 2001.

But local reporters say cases of intimidation and even physical abuse of journalists by local government officials are on the rise.