Afghan journalists have vowed to ignore a government order banning media coverage of violence on election day, charging their government with violating the constitution.
The Afghan foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying that news organisations should avoid "broadcasting any incidence of violence" between 6am and 5pm on election day "to ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people".
The English version of the document said media "are requested" to follow the guidelines. But the version in the Afghan language Dari said broadcasting news or video from a "terrorist attack" was "forbidden."
Ahmad Zahir Faqiri, the foreign ministry spokesman, said the order was made to ''benefit national interest and national security".
"If anyone broadcasts or gives news about any movements or activities of terrorists, domestic media offices will be closed and foreigners will be kicked out of the country," he told AP news agency.
Afghanistan's local media - the country has a host of newspapers, radio stations and television news outlets - condemned the statement as stifling freedom of the press that was supposed to have returned after the removal of the Taliban in 2001.
"We will not obey this order. We are going to continue with our normal reporting and broadcasting of news," said Rahimullah Samander, head of the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan.
Fahim Dashti, the editor of the English-language Kabul Weekly newspaper, called the demand "a violation of media law" and a constitution that protects freedom of speech.
"If some huge attack occurs, of course we are obliged to cover it," he said.
Even before the ban went into effect, police beat back journalists arriving at the scene of an attack on a Kabul bank Wednesday.
|The Taliban has ramped up attacks ahead of Thursday's presidential vote [GALLO/GETTY]
The interior ministry said in statement that journalists should stay away from the scene of any attacks until investigators have a chance to collect evidence.
Journalists who rushed to the bank were threatened by police, who pointed loaded guns in their faces and hit others with batons and the butts of rifles, according to journalists from The Associated Press.
Over the past few days, journalists responding to attacks in the capital have reported increasingly rough treatment.
On Tuesday, a police officer beat a photographer with his pistol at the site of a bomb attack on a Nato convoy, according to an AP photographer who witnessed the act.
Media freedom watchdog groups condemned the order.
"This censorship attempt threatens the entire democratic process"
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that it "not only violates media freedom but also the fundamental right of Afghan citizens to know what is going on in their country".
"This censorship attempt threatens the entire democratic process and increases the danger that Taliban attacks represent for the population," the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement.
Fleur Cowan, the US embassy spokeswoman, said the US acknowledged the sovereign rights of the Afghan government but believed that free media reporting "is directly linked to the credibility of the elections".
The Taliban has ramped up attacks ahead of Thursday's presidential vote and threatened to attack polling stations on the day itself.