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In Herat, the government has almost complete control of public speech-in the press, civic associations, the university, and the workplace. Ismail Khan and his government have not allowed the formation of independent media or associations, and tightly control the activities of the few organizations and media that have been permitted. Ismail Khan has restricted speech about his government, about his troops, about women's rights, and about any other topics he chooses. He has also forbidden local journalists from covering ongoing military conflicts between his forces and other forces in the region. This situation has created a climate of intimidation and fear in which citizens censor themselves rather than face the consequences.
Ittifaq-e Islam, the daily newspaper, is controlled by Ismail Khan and the Herat office of the Ministry of Information and Culture. The newspaper contains articles of little substance on non-controversial issues; conservative editorials in line with Ismail Khan's views about Islam, including articles urging increased restrictions on women; and articles describing and praising Ismail Khan.135 Human Rights Watch interviewed one of the paper's writers, who asserted that political content is censored from the newspaper. The writer explained that passages critical of the Herat government "were cut ... because of their political meaning."136 Others made similar complaints.
Aurang-e Hashtom, the journal of the Herat literary society, founded when the Taliban were in power, publishes literary works and poetry. During Taliban rule, the editors stressed that all material was to be literary, "not political," which is why Taliban officials allowed it. Members report that since Ismail Khan took power, his officials have pressured the society to publish articles about "mujahidin and hijab" and avoid anything that might be politically controversial, including women's rights. Pressures from the government, and internal controversies, have led to conflict within the editorial board. At the time of writing, the journal had not been published for over two months. (See below for more information on the literary society.)
Government Control of Herat Television Ismail Khan also controls the local Herat television station. The station censors political content from its programs and tightly controls the images of women that are broadcast. For example, in the first months of Ismail Khan's rule, a group of adults, boys, and girls produced three half-hour shows called "Green Leaf" [Barg Sabz]. According to one of the group's members:
Women and girls are not often shown on Herat television. When they are, it is on condition that they be completely covered. If they do not comply, their images are not shown. When broadcasting movies, Herat television has begun substituting a blank screen or an image of flowers whenever women appear in the picture.154 The picture is restored when only men are shown.155 (The control of women's images on Herat television will be discussed more fully in Human Rights Watch's forthcoming report on women's rights in Herat.)
But by early October, new "moral police," had appeared in Herat, created under the Ministry of Hajj and called "Vice and Virtue" by local residents, recalling the Taliban police who used to patrol cities and beat women for wearing "revealing" burqas, or men for not having sufficiently long beards (a milder version of a "Vice and Virtue" police also existed during Ismail Khan's first rule in Herat in 1992-95). In the first week of October, a squad appeared in the main Herat bazaar and raided shops containing videos, music cassettes, and movie posters. A Herati described what happened:
Restrictions on Individuals' Freedom of Speech and AssociationNo organizations in Herat may be started without Ismail Khan's permission. In those organizations he has allowed, he has handpicked the leadership or strongly pressured the leaders to follow his orders. In these organizations, any discussion about the current government's policies has provoked censure, just as with the media. And as with the media, Khan has especially targeted speech about women's rights.
As time went on, the relationship between Ismail Khan and the shura grew worse. The shura attempted to issue its first publication in March 2002. Representatives approached the head of the Herat office of the Ministry of Information and Culture to obtain the requisite approvals. They brought with them the organization's charter, signed by Ismail Khan, which specified that the shura would publish an independent newspaper. The Minister refused to recognize the charter and denied the shura's requests. Because local printers would not print the publication without government permission, the shura printed the first issue itself. At the end of March, during a visit by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general and head of UNAMA, Shahir presented copies to Brahimi and Ismail Khan, as well as to the UNAMA Herat office. Since Brahimi was present, there was little Ismail Khan could do to at the time. However, the organization has faced increasing restrictions on its activities since then. In July and August, Ismail Khan began to criticize the shura by name in his speeches. Some members became so fearful that they refused to take part in activities that might make them the target of his anger, such as publishing criticism of his government, challenging his restrictive policies towards women, or meeting with foreign journalists.159
However, since returning to power, Ismail Khan and his officials have limited the participation of women and girls and have sought to control the content of the society's work. About a month after Ismail Khan came back into power, the society held a large meeting at a hotel in Herat. A participant described the meeting:
More than one hundred women participated in a meeting where they read their own poems. When the meeting ended, Faiq, the Head of Information and Culture, said to us that henceforth women should not participate more than men in the meetings. He said that the number of women should be limited to a handful and that they should sit at the back. These were Ismail Khan's indirect orders through the head of Information and Culture and the Head of the Library. They said that for moral reasons, men and women should not be together-that it was against shari'a.172
The youth wanted to have their own association inside the society, but independent from it. It was going to be both male and female, and meet once a week. After the first meeting, Faiq informed Ismail Khan, who [then] strongly told the head of the association that men and women should not meet together in a separate group. If we would like to meet, it should be in the board's presence. The director told us, "Ismail Khan will create trouble for all of us so you cannot meet in this way." This was two or three months after the Taliban left. The board told us harshly to end our meetings. They were harsh because they were afraid."174
As with the women's shura (discussed below), the government has pressured the literary society to avoid the subject of women's rights. For example, after a public meeting in August 2002 where a member read an article she had written about women's rights, government officials pressured the literary association to censure further discussion of the topic. The speaker was told not to write articles of this type in the future.175 A witness said that:
The director of the literary association-he himself was under pressure from the government-pressured [the female members] not to do this again because it would create many problems and maybe they would close the literary association. After that we couldn't read our articles because most were about women. The government wants us to prepare articles about mujahidin freedom but we don't have any articles about this.176
The Women's Shura At the time of writing, the only women's organization in Herat involved in any substantive political and social issues is the Herat Women's Shura, which was established in August 2002. (There are a few other women's groups involved in humanitarian and development work.) Shura members told Human Rights Watch that Ismail Khan initially opposed its formation. However, perhaps because of intense international interest in women's issues in Afghanistan, he eventually granted permission. He has since handpicked the leadership, controlled the subjects the shura can address, and attempted to make the shura operate in the most traditional manner possible. Despite some dedicated members who have elected to remain in the shura with the hope of using it to create more political space for women, the group is not truly independent of the government and has little prospect of fulfilling its original aims.
An eighteen-year-old woman who chose not to join the shura explained: "Ismail Khan didn't want a Women's Shura to exist, but when [he allowed it,] he selected the head of the women's shura himself. After he had selected the head, we couldn't give our ideas freely."180 Even those who have chosen to participate in the Women's Shura concede that it is controlled by Ismail Khan. "The president was appointed by the government," one member told Human Rights Watch.181 "It's not private, it's under the government's control. Some person from the government attends each meeting," said another member.182 Other members confirmed that Ismail Khan or his officials attend and monitor the shura's meetings.183
At the shura's first meeting, Ismail Khan defined the organization's mission. According to Herat television: "The general Emir of the southwest zone during a speech clarified the role of the Shura's women in the rehabilitation of the country, the rehabilitation of deprived women, and solving family problems, then listened to the opinions and suggestions of women and gave clear answers to their questions."184 041b061a72