KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered a crackdown on ‘un-Islamic and obscene’ televisions shows in response to lobbying by the country’s religious council, an official said Wednesday.

Karzai told the culture ministry to block programmes “which are vulgar, un-Islamic, obscene and violate social morality, and Islamic morality”, according to a statement from his Council of Ministers. It said the move follows a request from the religious council to ban televised films seen as promoting vice and prostitution. Afghan society has liberalised since the fall in 2001 of the Taliban, who banned music and female education and prescribed punishments such as amputation and floggings. But it remains a conservative nation.

Rafi Ferdous, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Karzai’s decree should not be seen as limiting freedom of speech or of the media. “They have been acting in a way which hurts rather than helps media freedom in the country.”

He gave no examples of the type of programmes or films which might be banned in future.

Afghanistan’s media sector has boomed in the last decade, largely with financial support from the West, but the industry, especially television stations, has been under mounting pressure from conservative Islamic circles.

Last September, the Afghan government called for legal action against two TV channels for allegedly broadcasting scantily dressed women and disseminating immorality.