Afghanistan

Denmark evacuates embassies

Denmark has evacuated (via) staff from its embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan to secret safe locations because of an imminent threat. The Danish Security and Intelligence Service are concerned about an aggravated terror threat level against Danish interests following the reprinting earlier this year of Kurt Westergaards Mo-Toon as a protest over a plot to murder the cartoonist.

Indonesia threatens YouTube

After banning broadcasts of Fitna, the Indonesian government has gone a step further by demanding (via) that YouTube takes down Geert Wilders Fitna or it will block access to the site.

YouTube dont have a great record when responding to demands such as these but, so far, are doing well:

In response to queries, a YouTube spokesperson said the site allows people to express themselves and to communicate with a global audience.

The diversity of the world in which we live spanning the vast dimensions of ethnicity, religion, nationality, language, political opinion, gender, and sexual orientation, to name a few means that some of the beliefs and views of some individuals may offend others, she said.

Elsewhere, Indonesian students set fire to the Dutch flag in Jakarta and about 70 Afghan women burned both Dutch and Danish flags during a demonstration on Wednesday in Kabul.

Fitna press conference cancelled. Balkenende angry at protests

With no broadcaster willing to show Geert Wilders Fitna in its entirety, the Dutch politician was planning to screen it in press centre Nieuwspoort in The Hague. This plan has now been abandoned because of the costs of security, which he would have had to cover himself.

Wilders does not want to ask the government for the money and Parliament is not willing to look for an alternative location since that would lead to further talks and delay, so the first screening of this film will be over the internet. The target date is the end of this month.

Wilders has also called on the prime minister and foreign minister to condemn the demonstrations against Fitna which have involved burning of the Dutch flag, as has occurred several times in Afghanistan.

This appears to have happened and Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende has said he is extremely angry about the anti-Netherlands protests in Afghanistan in response to the film.

Afghan demonstrators called for Death to the Netherlands and demanded the withdrawal of Dutch troops in their country. Balkenende is annoyed because the Dutch mission is in fact focused on contributing to peace and safety. So I reject what is happening there.

Balkenende raised the matter with Afghan president Hamid Karzai during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland at the end of January. He also stressed at the time that Wilders film did not reflect the views of the Dutch government.

Mo-Film Update

Geert Wilders has expressed anger at the lack of support from his political colleagues in The Hague after an Al Qaeda-affiliated website called for the PVV politician to be slaughtered for his insults to Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Wilders has accused his parliamentary colleagues of complete disinterest regarding the threats and expressed outrage at the passive stance taken by Prime Minister Balkenende, who said in January that the Koran film could lead to a serious crisis situation.

Not completely passive, though, as it has also emerged that the Dutch government looked into whether Wilders film could be banned before it was released. Sources close to the cabinet have confirmed that the government prosecutor has investigated whether there are legal grounds to prevent the film from being released. Such a ban would be opposed by the socialist PvdA.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, several hundred people took to the streets to demonstrate that knowing nothing about a film is no barrier to objecting to it. Objecting to both the reprinting of the Mo-Toons (but not the murder plot that led to the reprinting) and Wilders still unreleased film, the demonstrators burned Dutch and Danish flags and called on the government to expel both the Dutch and Danish embassies from Afghanistan and stop any diplomatic relations with the two countries.

Following this demonstration Natos secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has expressed concern that the film - if released - will have repercussions for troops in Afghanistan.

Going Wilder in the Country

Geert Wilders is continuing to make waves with the film that no-one has actually seen yet. It was (probably) the reason behind Pakistans recent incompetent blocking of YouTube and now the Taliban is trying to get involved.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, called the film - which he hasnt seen - an insult to Islam, and threatened that the group will up attacks against Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan if the film is released.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen courageously responded by calling on Wilders to not broadcast his film. He claims that he is trying to meet demands from anti-democratic forces and terrorists but protecting Dutch interests abroad, which is really no more than a difference of semantics.

Wilders does seem to be feeling remarkably thin-skinned about the whole affair, claiming that he was subjected to an hour of intimidation by Verhagen and Justice Minister, Ernst Hirsch Ballin after a meeting with the ministers on Wednesday.

The PVV leader expects his film will be finished at the end of this week. He will then look for a television broadcaster to air the film.

The unacceptable nature of the conviction

Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel De Gucht, has summoned the Afghan Ambassador following the death sentence handed down to 23-year-old Perwez Kambakhsh for downloading material from the internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies.

De Gucht has expressed his displeasure at the death sentence to the Afghan Ambassador to Belgium, highlughting both the unacceptable nature of the conviction and the fact that the trial took place behind closed doors.

According to the Afghan Ambassador to Belgium, his countrys government is also concerned about the journalist. He added that Mr Kambakhsh has appealed against his sentence.

Journalist sentanced to death for blasphemy

Afghan journalist, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, has been sentenced to death by a provincial court for distributing blasphemous material. He was arrested in 2007 after downloading material from the internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies, which was deemed to be offensive to Islam.

A court in the Balkh province claimed that he had confessed and had to be punished. For good measure, the court also threatened to arrest any reporters who protested against Kambakhshs sentence.

Shamsur Rahman, the head of the court, told Reuters news agency: According to the Islamic law, Sayed Perwiz is sentenced to death at the first court. However, he will go through three more courts to declare his last punishment.

The sentence has been welcomed by conservative Islamic clerics in Afghanistan but criticised by pretty much everyone else. Reporters Without Borders said they were deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution.” The human rights group has appealed to President Hamid Karzai to intervene before it is too late.

In Afghanistan itself, Agence France-Presse reported that journalists were gathering outside the home of the condemned reporter in defiance of Balkh provinces deputy attorney general, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, who warned that they would be arrested if they attempted to support Kambakhsh.

Afghanistan bans The Kite Runner

Afghan-set drama The Kite Runner has been banned in its homeland after government officials claimed it could incite violence.

Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner has already sparked controversy in the country due to scenes depicting the rape of a child and conflicts between members of the rival Hazara and Pashtun tribes. According to atif Ahmadi, head of state-run Afghan Film, these scenes are questionable and unacceptable for some people and would cause sensitiveness and trouble for the government and people.

Parmount reportedly whisked its three young stars out of the country late last year amid fears of reprisal.

Banning soap

Against a background of suicide bombers in the capital, spiralling opium production and half the country prey to Taleban guerrillas, Afghanistans spiritual guardians are campaingning to ban Indian soap operas (via). And whats worrying is that the Islamic Council of Scholars have managed to gain the backing of the Minister of Information and Culture, who has written to television executives to threaten prosecution if they show footage that offends morality. He is particularly concerned about Indian soaps.

His announcement came after dozens of clerics met President Karzai a week ago to demand a ban on shows that they claim are “spreading immorality and un-Islamic culture”. The dramas have won thousands of devotees in Afghanistan who enjoy the escapist world of the fictional Bombay rich. Anywhere else, the family dramas with wooden acting and creaking sets would be thought tame. They have, however, offended the countrys new moral enforcers, who fear that the soaps will fuel a craze of “stone worship”, or veneration of Hindu idols.

The enforcers are also urging the Government to take action to get a young generation of rappers and pop stars off air. The old men accuse the musicians of polluting the nations moral standards and they have chastised Afghans who watch television when they could go to the mosque.

Before trying to turn back the clock on Kabuls media, the scholars main campaign was to bring back public executions, last seen in the capital when the Taleban were in control. The battle to censor television also harks back to the the days of Taleban rule when entertainment was banned and Kabulis risked jail to watch smuggled videos in the secrecy of their own homes.

Death threats fail to stop a road movie to Kabul

After a bit of a hiatus its nice to be able to return to this blog with a positive post.

Although very popular in Afghanistan, Bollywood films didnt go down well - to say the least - with the Taliban and, when in power, the Islamic government banned the films. But now, with the Taliban out of power, the Indian film industry has broken new ground by releasing the first international movie filmed in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Kabul Express is the tale of two Indian journalists out of their depth on the trail of Taliban and is set among the countrys spectacularly scarred landscape of gutted buildings and pitted flatlands. Shot over 45 days in and around Kabul, the Bombay film crew arrived in September last year during the resurgence of Taliban violence that saw three suicide bombings and the beheading of an Indian construction engineer.

The films director and writer, Kabir Khan says that it took just two weeks before the Taliban sent death threats to the movie set.

I was told by the Indian ambassador in Kabul that there was a five-man death squad sent by the Taliban. Everybody was pretty nervous. The Taliban wanted to send a message that you cannot have a normal life here. But the Afghan government really helped. They gave us 60 armed commandos and we used to roll around in 35 SUVs. In fact we looked like a militia.

The film went on general release in the UK on Friday.

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