As Afghan government officials debate the draft Access to Information Law in Parliament, dozens of aspiring media lawyers took the floor themselves in October's media law moot court competition organized by Internews and supported by USAID.
On October 14, teams representing seven universities across the country – Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, Takhar, and Albironi – convened at Kabul University's Information Center to present their oral statements on cases covering issues that ranged from privacy to freedom of expression and Islam to defamation.
Having heavily researched their cases, filed written submissions, and practiced their oral arguments, competitors were well prepared to put forward their cases before judges, several of whom participated in Internews' 2013 moot court competition. Judges evaluated the students on their ability to respond to questions from the bench, presentation skills, legal aptitude, and persuasiveness. Ultimately, the team from Herat University took home the prize for first place, with the team's Mursal Herawy winning one of the two Best Oralist awards.
Unlike the 2013 competition, this year's moot court was preceded by a one-day media law conference in which professors from each of the seven represented universities gave presentations that spoke directly to the issues their students would present the following day in the competition.
The aim of the competition was not only to further hone students' already strong legal skills through practical on-hands experience, but also to instill in them a deeper understanding of the role journalists and an independent media will play in the course of Afghanistan's future.
"I have participated in some other legal programs, but none of them was as interesting and effective as the media law moot court competition," said Mohammad Karimi of Herat University, the winning team. "This program has motivated me to research further freedom of expression and media."
As participants noted, the competition also formed the basis of a cadre of budding lawyers across Afghanistan who are well versed in the issues, as well as in the range of perspectives that exist throughout the country.
"The media law moot court is one of the most valuable legal programs that I have participated in yet," said Fazl Rahman Fekrat, the other participant who received the Best Oralist award.
"For me, this program was a world of experience. This program has broken the walls of discrimination among the north, west, east and south, and established a spirit of tolerance and modern dialogue, especially around media law issues."