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Rights Group: Afghanistan Violating Freedom in Crackdown on Newspaper

An Afghan man reads a newspaper at a tea shop in Kabul in this May 3, 2011, file photo.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders has accused Afghan officials of increasingly violating freedom of information by cracking down on an Afghan newspaper that is critical of the government.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Paris-based group criticized Afghan judicial authorities for arresting a reporter for the Kabul-based private daily Mandegar on July 5 and sentencing its editor to two-and-half years in jail a month earlier.

The group said reporter Abdolrahman Sakhizadeh was arrested "arbitrarily" as a result of a libel action by the Afghan government's anti-corruption chief, Azizullah Ludin. It said Sakhizadeh had written a May 15 story about alleged corruption involving senior officials in Ludin's department.

Reporters Without Borders also said Mandegar chief editor Nazari Paryani recently received a phone call notifying him that he must serve a 30-month jail sentence in connection with a March trial in which he was convicted in absentia. It said Paryani was not informed about the original trial and has appealed the prison term.

Paryani told the group that he believes the Afghan government is trying to pressure the media to censor themselves. He also said his newspaper's offending articles did not engage in personal attacks and "criticized those concerned out of a professional duty."

The Afghan government had no immediate response to the accusations by the rights group and the newspaper.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to defend freedom of expression in a national address in February, calling it one of Afghanistan's biggest achievements. He also said it is important for Afghan media to "work for peace, stability, national unity and solidarity."