Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Weblog: New forum for free expression in Afghanistan

Weblogs are a place where journalists could publish evidence of corruption, crimes and lies of politicians and for Afghans writers to express how they feel about things which influence their lives. Radio and TV stations are under pressure by the Afghan government and it gets harder for people to tell how their country is run and how the people they elect lives to promise. Weblogs are a new place where authors try to voice or find resolution to their problem, state radio and TV is in the hands of ministry of information and culture and it’s filled with a bunch of lies and bluffs that the government want people to think is true.

Western weblogs have made it so easy to publish a story that even an Afghan older generation who knows little about HTML can have a say on the internet. Jawid Farhad is an Afghan writer “I have my own place on the internet now, it has been almost a month. I am probably the first of my generation who is on the internet” Farhad posts his poems and articles only by choosing web page templates and clicking the publish button. But there are challenges too, Abdullah Khodadad and Baktash Siawash, two young bloggers are trying to set up a weblog service for Afghanistan, none exists yet “most of Afghan weblogs are on Blogfa or Persianblog. These providers are funded by Iranian government and they have control over it” said Abdullah. Baktash is one of the most consistent bloggers, he writes several times a week “there are certain things that you can’t write about, I have seen Iranians filtering some articles” Naseem Fikrat has his own domain. Naseem has also set up Afghan Penlog, a forum where he attempts to bring afghan bloggers together, as part of an attempt to bring Afghan bloggers together and enable them to counter filtering. Omar Nassir is an Afghan Diaspora in Russia; omar has set up Farsi.ru in Russian, Faris and English, aiming to provide information for Afghans in Russia and to build a singular image of Afghanistan among Russians. His website is one of the most celebrated media outlets, focusing on Afghanistan in Russia. Many Russian organizations have contacted him to see if they could collaborate, omar is now seeking reporters and partners in Afghanistan.

Internet providers are also under pressure to censor weblogs. Government offices, NGOs and UN offices has filtering policies, the ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of communication and ministry of information and culture has imposed temporary or permanent censorship on weblogs, this has been for publishing a critical article or evidence. An Afghan weblogger working with NATO, who wanted to remain anonymous, said “the nature of my job requires traveling around the country and I see and experience things that I feel I should share with others. But like many other Afghan webloggers I don’t name my organisation. I don’t name co-workers or bosses. I don’t say where my work station is. But I think some of my coworkers are aware of my blog. With the worsening security situation in the country and increased civilian causalities and public skepticism to NATO, there is a lot for me to write. Unfortunately, my employer decided to block weblog providers” the mentioned weblogger is often working in military basis in remote mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and has no way to access the internet except through office internet.

Many blogger has no journalism experience and there are no laws in the country which apply to them. There are complaints from officials about blogs and it’s getting more and more, Kamran mirhazar, an anti corruption blogger was jailed for five days for the content of his weblog. In the lack of media freedom officials could intimidate bloggers through security agencies. Kamran was held by secret police while in the light of democratic laws such a case should be handled by media commission.
Internet access is still very limited in Afghanistan, one out of every 1000 afghan has access to internet, this is another reason why afghan blogger think as if they are not very visible, assuming that because what they write appears in a virtual world, but we have seen their critics come back to them in the real world.

Naseem Fikrat an Afghan blogger did a survey of Afghan blogs “there are around a thousand Afghan bloggers, but it’s really hard to estimate the correct figures because they are using different blog providers” Naseem said “People write blogs to talk about their day, work, literature, poetry, curroption and politics.” Naseem added. But it’s not easy for an employee to express his view about the above; it takes the employer only the search engine to find out “Last few months has witness a dramatic increase in the number of weblogs” said Kamran Mirhazar editor of Kabul press.

Bloggers can’t totally escape censorship, bloggers also have their enemies; in this case the enemy is not only the government but many others. Unlike radio and TV weblogs has smaller enemies which are more proximate and more dangerous. Bloggers are censored by the government as well as employer and internet provider. “there is a long way to go, we need legal protection, there are no laws in place to protect webloggers” said Kamran Mirhazar.

Habib Farhadi published some documents on the internet showing fraud and deception in the educational background of a senior Karzai advisor. The ministry of communication filtered the blog. When I brought up the issue with the minister of communication, Amirzai Sangin “how do you know about the blog?” he asked surprisingly. “the direction came from the government. The blog has false information and is defamatory” he added. Amirzai sangin was questioned in a parliamentary hearing, when and why he changed his name, the MP alleged that his real name is Shirin gul. but Sangin choose not to answer.

Bloggers are generally obligated to publish as facts only topics they have proof for. Kamran Mirahzar is gathering evidence for media commission to support some of the critical articles he has on his website. Free expression and the internet could be tricky, especially when those views relate to personal experience.
Blogger can say “women and children are among casualties in Musa Qala” But it's another thing to say “Michail Wood, a british soldier under Nato command, shot dead three women”
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