Media blackout on election violence in Afghanistan

Afghan government issues decrees forbidding reporting of violence during the election

The Afghan government has ordered a media blackout on violence during the presidential election tomorrow, to avoid a climate of fear where people are deterred from voting.

The foreign ministry issued a decree banning all broadcasts of information about violence while polls were open. The interior ministry issued a second poll instructing reporters to keep away from the scene of any attacks.

While the English version of the decree spoke of a "request", the version in Dari used stronger language, saying that reporting on violence during the election was "strictly forbidden".

Siamek Herawi, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, told Reuters: "We have taken this decision in the national interest of Afghanistan in order to encourage people and raise their morale to come out and vote.

"This decision will control the negative impact of the media. If something happens, this will prevent them from exaggerating it, so that people will not be frightened to come out and vote."

It was not clear how the government planned to enforce the ban.

Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association (AIJA), said that both foreign and local journalists would continue to provide information to the public during the election period: "It shows the weakness of the government and we condemn such moves to deprive people from accessing news."

Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the election, and leader Mullah Omar has called on Afghans to boycott the vote. It has been reported that another Taliban commander has told villagers in the south that voters found with indelible ink would have their fingers cut off.

The authorities fear reports of violence on election day could deter voters and damage the credibility of the results.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, said yesterday that the Taliban were trying to create a climate of fear to stop voters from turning out.