Blocked: Web sites that criticize Karzai or promote taboos

The Associated PressJuly 19, 2009 

— The Afghan government has blocked access to four Web sites with President Hamid Karzai's name in the address that are critical of the Afghan leader or have links to sites advertising locally taboo subjects such as online dating and mail-order brides.

The shutdown order comes ahead of the country's presidential election Aug. 20. An Information Ministry spokesman initially said the original complaint about two of the sites came from the Karzai campaign. Karzai's campaign spokesman agreed but called back to deny involvement.

Afghan coverage of the presidential race has been dominated by Karzai, while his 40 opponents complain they've received scant attention in state-run media, forcing them to campaign in person or on the Internet in a country where daily travel can be deadly and few have home computers.

The Information Ministry ordered the country's 25 Internet service providers to shut down access to four Web sites bearing Karzai's name and one with the name of an Afghan Cabinet minister, the director of the Afghan Telecom Regulatory Authority said Saturday.

The four sites all bear the president's full or last name but clearly don't have Karzai's backing.

Hamidkarzai.com asks "Is Hamid Karzai anything more than a puppet?" in a blaring red headline. The site calls Karzai an "inefficient" politician and says he came into power because of his "long-standing ties with the CIA." The site is registered in Springfield, Va., according to the Web site www.whois.net, which publishes Internet registration records.

Other banned sites with Karzai in the address show advertisements for online dating and mail order brides -- touchy subjects in conservative Afghanistan. Another links to a Chinese-language search engine.

The spokesman for Karzai's election campaign, Waheed Omar, first told The Associated Press that the shutdown of the sites was "on our request." Omar said he did not think that others had the right to operate sites such as HamidKarzai.com and write negative things about the president.

Omar said the campaign was launching a new Web site, www.hamidkarzai.af, and it didn't want Web users to be confused by unofficial sites.

However, Omar later called AP back and said he had been mistaken, and after consulting with colleagues had learned the request had not come from the campaign office. "I can assure you it has not come from our side," Omar said.

The spokesman for the Information Ministry, Hamid Nasery, said he thought the original complaint over two Web sites had originated from the Karzai campaign but said he needed to gather more information.

The ministry's complaint commission, which investigates media violations, had not received any complaints about the Web sites, said Ali Ahmad Fakoor, a member of the commission.

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