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Cablegate: Outcry Over Ag Sabit's Reaction to Negative Media

VZCZCXRO9499
OO RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1332/01 1081550
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 181550Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7611
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASH DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY 0018
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 3977

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 001332

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A, SCA/PPD
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR HARRIMAN
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CFC-A, CG CJTF-76 POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: OUTCRY OVER AG SABIT'S REACTION TO NEGATIVE MEDIA
COVERAGE

1. (U) SUMMARY: Angered by an April 17 news
broadcast which he maintains took his comments out
of context, Attorney General Sabit ordered the
immediate summons of two Tolo TV news staff for
questioning that evening. When Tolo TV legal
advisor Mohammad Abdullah, general manager Siddiq
Ahmadzada, and security manager Lal Mohammad refused
to allow police to detain the anchor and news
coordinator summoned by Sabit, police detained them
instead for impeding the order. Four employees of the
Associated Press who were observing the incident
were also detained. Abdullah, Ahmadzada, and Mohammad
maintain that they were beaten and had their phones
confiscated while in police custody. Although it does
not appear that Sabit acted outside of his purview as
Attorney General, his response was clearly an
overreaction that will undoubtedly heighten national
and international scrutiny of GOA treatment of the
media and the upcoming Parliamentary debates on the
Media Law. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -
NEGATIVE MEDIA COVERAGE INCITES IRE FROM SABIT
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) During its regular 6:00 evening newscast,
Tolo TV aired a one minute clip of AG Sabit stating
before Parliament that, "There is no appropriate
system in the government." The newscast also
reported Sabit to have said that prisoners sentenced
to the death penalty would soon be hanged and that
the President would welcome Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
and others into the government. (Note: Today the
Presidential spokesperson issued a clarification of
the Palace position on this. End note.) Sabit
was upset by the coverage which took his comments
out of context. During an April 18 meeting with
the Embassy, Sabit said he first asked for Tolo TV
to issue a retraction, which was refused. He then
ordered police under the Ministry of Interior (MOI)
to summon the news anchor and the news coordinator
for that evening's broadcast for questioning. When
police arrived at Tolo TV headquarters, they met
with Tolo TV legal advisor Mohammad Abdullah and
general manager Siddiq Ahmadzada, who argued that
the news anchor was not responsible for the content
and said they would send representatives of Tolo TV
to meet with AG Sabit the following morning.

3. (U) According to Tolo, the police and Tolo TV
management then walked out of the building together,
where employees of the Associated Press (AP) were
waiting to interview them about Sabit's detention
order which had already become breaking news. As
the AP began its interview of Tolo management,
Kabul district police chief showed up and demanded
the immediate detention of the news anchor and news
coordinator. When Tolo management refused, the
Kabul police chief detained Ahmadzada, Abdullah and
Tolo security manager Lal Mohammad along with the
four AP staff. During an April 18 meeting with
the Embassy, Ahmadzada and Abdullah maintained
that police confiscated their cell phones and beat
them with the end of their guns. Ahmadzada and
Abdullah showed Embassy officers bruises on their
neck and arm from their alleged mistreatment.

4. (U) Abdullah, Ahmadzada and Mohammad said they
were taken to the Attorney General's Office for
questioning by Deputy Attorney Generals Hamidi
Arab and Temar Shah, who pointed out that Sabit
had spoken to the Parliament for over an hour
and asked why Tolo did not show the full speech.
All were released approximately one hour later,

KABUL 00001332 002 OF 003


but repeated news coverage of Sabit's statements
and the detention of Tolo TV and AP staff continued
throughout the night.

--------------------------
SABIT ACTED WITHIN THE LAW
--------------------------

5. (U) Local media aired coverage of Tolo TV
management, other journalists and prominent members
of Parliament such as Shukria Barakzai condemning
Sabit's actions as illegal throughout the day on
April 18. However, it does not appear that Sabit
acted outside of his purview as Attorney General.
The Afghan Mass Media Law passed by Presidential
Decree in 2005 prohibits material that is "libelous
and slanderous," and Sabit maintains that Tolo TV's
mischaracterizations of his comments fall under this
category. Sabit does hold the authority to summon
Afghan citizens for questioning without a warrant or
written documentation. During an April 18 meeting
with the Embassy, Sabit asserted that his only
intention was to summon the appropriate Tolo
employees for questioning and try to work out an
arrangement to correct the coverage, but that the
incident had been blown way out of proportion. As
far as allegations by Tolo management that they were
beaten and their cell phones illegally confiscated,
Sabit's defense was that he is not responsible for
the misconduct of police officials and that if
presented evidence, he would investigate the
allegations. He says he simply ordered police
to detain two specific Tolo employees, not to
detain other Tolo staff, beat them or to detain
the AP employees.

------------
GOA REACTION
------------

6. (U) The Bakhtar News Agency published the
following statement from the Ministry of Information
and Culture the same evening of the incident: "This
evening the security precinct summoned three
personnel from Tolo TV to the police station and
conveyed to them the Attorney General's complaint
about the telecasting of his press conference by
this TV channel. After conveying this, the Tolo
personnel were released. The Ministry of
Information and Culture emphasizes that reviewing
such complaints and violations is the duty of the
Media Commission. The Minister of Information and
culture in phone contact with Saad Mohseni, owner of
Tolo TV, informed him of the release of the Tolo
employees, telling him that the Media Commission
would review this event." Note: While the Media
Commission for Complaints and Violations is
responsible for reviewing complaints of inaccurate
media coverage and determining whether they should
go before the court or can be mediated, Afghan law
does not preclude Sabit from conducting an
investigation of the complaints before the Media
Commission reviews the case.

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (U) While Sabit may not have disobeyed the law,
his response to the media coverage of his statements
was clearly an overreaction, which Palace officials
have described to the Embassy as "embarrassing." A
peaceful demonstration of approximately 100
journalists called for by the Afghan National

KABUL 00001332 003 OF 003


Journalists Union gathered in front of Parliament
today to protest what they see as Sabit's abuse of his
authority and police misconduct. These events will
certainly bring additional scrutiny and heightened
tensions to the upcoming Parliamentary debates on the
Media Law slated to happen soon - and Karzai will not
be able to escape the attention placed on his volatile
Attorney General, either.
WOOD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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