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Afghanistan: Interview with Baktash Siawash, blogger and journalist

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Afghanistan, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Media & Journalism, Migration & Immigration

What follows is an interview about censorship, media and blogs in Afghanistan with blogger and journalist Baktash Siawash. Baktash writes for several magazines including WashingtonPrism [1].

Q: Please introduce yourself and your blog.

A: My Name is Baktash Siawash and I live in Afghanistan; my blog's name is “Writings of Siawash” (Neweshtehayeh Siawash in Farsi). I started my blog back in 2003 in Kabul. I used to publish my writings via provider Persianblog [2], but after publishing an article about “Bad Veil (Bad Hijad [3]) in Tehran” , my blog got removed from this Iran-based provider. At present, I have a new blog that can be found here: http://www.kabul.tchatcheblog.com/.

Q: How you evalute the situation of Afghan blogs at present?

A: I think writing blogs in Afghanistan started in 2002, and bloggers were a small number of people who had access to the internet in their working place. I mean most of these bloggers worked with NGOs, UN or other foreign offices in Afghanistan. Some Afghan blogs also got established by Afghans who live in Canada, the US and other parts of the world.

In 2004, the number of Afghan bloggers increased to around 300 blogs. In 2005, statistics showed the number of Afghan blogs had risen to around 900. It seems at present we have 3000 bloggers but many of them do not update their blogs in a month. A small number of them are active and update there blog, daily, weekly, and monthly. Most Afghan blog are about poetery, politics and culture.

Q: It seems Afghanistan has enjoyed freedom of expression and that there are many journals. Do you think blogs can bring an added value to freedom of epression? How has their role been so far?

A: In Afghanistan, there are about 70 radio stations, 400 daily, weekly and monthly magazines, 5 news agencies, 7 TV stations, but still we don’t have freedom of expression. The Afghan government cannot accept critical journals and journalists in Afghanistan. There are a lot of examples I can mention. Narmgo, an Afghan independent journalist, was sent to jail just for his criticism about an Afghan Minister. The Afghan government controls Afghan blogs and 2 days earlier Afghan independent blogger and journalist Kamran Merhazar was jailed for a few days by the Afghan special police agency NDS. Because he was also critical regarding the government.

These examples show that the pressure on blogs and other sections of the media increases and that working with newspapers, journals and blogs in Afghanistan becomes more difficult.

Q: How is the relationship between traditional media and blogs in Afghanistan? Do many journalists blog or not?

A: I think that blog is a new concept in Afghanistan. Here, we do have some newspapers and weeklies which have blogs and websites but in general, working with blogs is still in its infancy here. Most of the Afghan politicians, journalists and writers cannot even use email. Another problem in this area is electricity. Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan but still its citizens suffer from regular blackouts. Moreover, most Afghan daily, weekly and monthly newspapers use information from websites. This happens especially often with the BBC Persian Service: There's a lot of reprinting without mentioning the source. In Afghanistan, nobody attaches any value to copyright.

Q: Would you like to share any idea with Global Voices audience?

A: I know that most of the Global Voices readers are journalists, human rights activists and defenders of freedom of expression. I ask them not to leave Afghan journalists and freedom of expression fighters alone.