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Grab from a video that shows militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) blowing up bound and blindfolded Afghan prisoners with explosives. The victims were from Nangarhar province.

In one of Afghanistan's biggest cities, the radical message of the Islamic State (IS) resonates from radio sets.

"With Allah's help, we will plant our black flag over the Arg [presidential palace] in Kabul and the seats of government in Islamabad," an unnamed fiery orator blasts into the microphone in Pashto language with Arabic-language jihadist ballads playing in the background.

Voice of the Caliphate, the formal name of the IS radio station, can be heard in Jalalabad, the teeming capital of Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province. Its broadcasts on 90 FM frequency can be heard across Nangarhar's 22 mountainous districts.

The hard-line jihadist group that now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq seems to be using its new Afghan radio broadcasts to spread anti-government propaganda among Nangarhar's estimated 1.5 million residents and attract the youth among them to its cause.

Zabihullah Zamary, a lawmaker in Nangarhar, says Daesh, an Arabic term commonly used to refer to the group, is using the broadcasts to increase its influence in Nangarhar, where hundreds have died in insurgent attacks and the government offensive against IS after militants overran large parts of some rural, eastern districts of Nangarhar close to the Pakistani border.

"We are determined to prevent them from destabilizing the government and using these broadcasts to propagate Daesh's hateful message to attract new recruits to their cause," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Nangarhar's Information and Culture Department, the local branch of a government ministry responsible for regulating media, still doesn't know where the radio broadcasts are coming from.

"We don't know much about the [new] radio station, which [apparently] broadcasts from an insecure [rural] area," Aworang Samim, the department's head, told Tolo tv.

Firdous Hazrati, the owner of Safa Radio, a commercial station in Nangarhar, says the IS radio has virtually overtaken their FM frequency 89.7 in many rural districts.

"I am calling on the government to take urgent steps to shut down this station soon," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Provincial government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said authorities are unable to shut down the station because it broadcasts from across Nangarhar's eastern border with Pakistan.

He said the government has asked the Pakistani diplomatic mission in Jalalabad to help in shutting down the station. Islamabad, however, has not commented on the issue.

"[During the past few months,] Daesh's military strength has been downgraded. This is why they are now ramping up their propaganda campaign," Khogyani told Radio Free Afghanistan. "They are now using Facebook, other social media platforms, and radio broadcasts to magnify the effects of their propaganda."

IS first emerged in the region in January, when the militant group announced it had appointed a former Taliban commander, Hafiz Saeed Khan, as its leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The organization, which described itself as the Khorasan Vilayat or Khorasan region, soon lost some of its key leaders in southern Afghanistan. By summer, Taliban militants and government attacks had crushed the IS affiliates in the southern provinces of Helmand and Farah.

But despite large-scale military operations, the group still retains influence in Nangarhar. General John Campbell, the U.S. commander of international forces, now sees a growing number of Afghan militants being attracted to IS.

Campbell told the Associated Press on December 15 that IS fighters were trying to establish a regional base in Jalalabad and "foreign fighters" from Syria and Iraq were joining them.

Afghanistan's fighting season usually ends after winter snows cover the Hindu Kush Mountains. IS now seems to be plotting to make a dramatic battlefield return in the new year.

fg/

An Afghan browsing the Internet.

Internet freedom has declined around the world -- again.

That's according to the latest Freedom on The Net report, released on October 28 by the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Freedom House.

The NGO says 2015 was the fifth year in a row it has documented a decline in Internet freedom, with more governments censoring information of public interest, while also expanding surveillance and cracking down on privacy tools.

"Governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying on blocking and filtering," said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net. "They know that average users have become more technologically savvy and are often able to circumvent state-imposed blocks."

At the same time, tools crucial to securing freedom of expression have been subject to restrictions.

"Undermining online encryption and anonymity weakens the internet for everyone, but especially for human rights activists and independent journalists," Kelly said. "Privacy tools can help protect internet users from the kinds of abuse we document."

Freedom House monitors democratic institutions, political freedoms, and human rights around the world. In this study, it found that over 61 percent of all Internet users live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family has been subject to censorship online, and over 58 percent live in countries where bloggers or information and communication technology users were jailed for sharing content on political, social, and religious issues.

Encryption Stigmatized

The study found that the most censored topics in the Internet were related to criticism of the authorities. News about conflicts, corruption allegations against top government or business figures, opposition websites, and satire were also subject to online censorship in more than one-third of the countries examined.

Authorities in 42 of the 65 countries assessed required private companies or Internet users to restrict or delete Web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues, up from 37 the previous year.

Authorities in 40 of 65 countries imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion, or society through digital networks, up from 38 in last year's report.

Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014 and many more upgraded their surveillance equipment.

Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

According to the research results, China was the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom, followed by Syria and Iran.

Since June 2014, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw Internet freedom deteriorate. Notable declines were documented in Libya, France, and -- for the second year running -- Ukraine, amid its territorial conflict with Russia.

Internet freedom saw its biggest gains in Sri Lanka and Zambia, which both experienced a recent change in government. Internet access became more affordable in Cuba after diplomatic relations were restored with the United States, but it remains out of reach for the majority.

Among the countries RFE/RL broadcasts to, Armenia and Georgia were ranked "free". Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine were ranked "partly free", while Belarus, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan were ranked "not free".

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