By: Angela Garrone, Pace International Law Review, Senior Associate
The Afghan government has recently blocked access to four websites that bear President Karzai’s name in the address. These sites all share the commonality of containing text that is critical of the president or have links to sites advertising culturally taboo services, such as online dating and mail order brides. None of the blocked sites were endorsed by the government, yet each website’s address contains the president’s full or last name. Mr. Karzai’s campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, confirmed that the president’s campaign was the motivation behind the block, but later Omar reneged and claimed that he had been mistaken. In his initial statement, Omar said that the campaign did not think websites like HamidKarzai.com had the right to operate and broadcast negative statements about the president. Mr. Omar added that the president’s own campaign was launching its own website, http://www.hamidkarzai.af, and did not want citizens to be confused with unofficial websites.
The ban only applies to the 25 internet service providers servicing Afghanistan. Access to the websites is still available outside of Afghanistan’s borders. Any internet service provider within the boundaries of the country that does not block access to these sites will be referred to the attorney general for reprimand. This ban comes on the heels of Afghanistan’s presidential election, which will take place on August 20th. Coverage of the election process on Afghan television has been dominated by Mr. Karzai’s campaign, with his forty opponents having little to no coverage on the state run television programming. This has forced the president’s opponents to campaign on the internet and even door to door, in a country with few home computers and where daily travel can be very dangerous. As of July 9, Mr. Karzai controls sicty percent of election coverage on state TV, according to a report by the Independent Election Commission. Such facts have led Karzai’s presidential opponents to complain that the president has a built-in campaign advantage by being able to use state media for campaign purposes.