In the wake of the new Taliban government, Press freedom in Afghanistan is struggling to survive. Despite countless reassurances from the Taliban on freedom of the Press, recent attacks on media personalities and media by the militant group stand as evidence of the factuality.
In August, after the take over of Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaking to Reporters without Borders (RSF) assured, “We will respect freedom of the Press because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors”, but since then countless reports have emerged from the country recounting assaults on journalists, restrictions media and mass closure of media houses.
Since the formation of the new Afghan government, the Taliban has forced female reporters off-air, asking them “to stay at home for a few more days”. A survey conducted by RSF reported that only 100 out of 700 female journalists are able to find work in the country. Some chose to stay at home fearing repercussions for disobeying the Taliban while some have gone into hiding fearing for the safety of their family and their lives. Many journalists worry that the Taliban may come looking for them for their previous work that spoke against the militant group.
Research conducted by Afghanistan National Journalists Union (ANJU) highlighted “grave risks faced by female journalists, who comprise more than 67% of the journalists and media workers describing their lives as under threat.”
Steven Butler, program coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPG) Asia, said, “Stripping public media of prominent women news presenters is an ominous sign that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have no intention of living up to their promise of respecting women’s rights, in the media or elsewhere”. He added that the Taliban should allow women news anchors to return to work, and should allow all journalists to work in a safe environment and without any interference from the group.
Since the beginning of the Taliban rule, media personnel and journalists remain at constant risk in the country. A significant rise in arrests and use of violence against journalists has been reported. In the first month itself, militants raided the homes of at least four journalists.
In a statement by Deutsche Welle, a German news publication, the organization reported that the militant group had raided the homes of three of its employees in a search for them. Expressing concern over the safety of their employees in Afghanistan, officials at Deutsche Welle said, “With the Taliban takeover, the lives of Deutsche Welle employees and their families in Afghanistan are under acute threat.”
“Alone the fact that they worked for a western broadcaster could result in torture and death,” they added.
A group of UN human rights experts have urged all governments to “take strong and swift action to protect Afghan journalists who face persecution, including by expediting visas, assisting with evacuation and keeping their borders open for those who wish to leave Afghanistan”.
The experts added, “Reports of targeted killings of journalists and their family members, home raids, threats, and intimidation in areas controlled by the Taliban have sharply increased in recent months. This is taking place in a context where Afghanistan is already considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.”
Research by ANJU further reported that “more than 70% of all respondents (media participants of the survey) have received threats since the Taliban came to power nearly a month ago. The majority had been threatened verbally and 21% indicated they had been physically threatened. The report suggests that attacks against journalists and media workers are not only perpetrated by the Taliban, with unknown aggressors accounting for around 40% of attacks.”
Moreover, on 19 September, the Taliban government imposed 11 rules that raised international concerns for Press freedom and free speech. The rules announced by GMIC interim director, Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi prohibited journalists and media organizations from publishing stories that “are contrary to Islam”, “insult national figures,” or “distort news content.”
The regulations mandate journalists to “ensure that their reporting is balanced”, refrain from reporting “matters that have not been confirmed by officials” or that “could have a negative impact on public’s attitude”.
The IFJ said, “The Taliban’s introduction of these media regulations is a blatant attack on the media and its vital task to inform Afghanistan’s people. If Taliban leaders are trying to send a message to the world, it is quite clear that these rules are intended to censor, silence, and instill fear of retribution – and in no way create a space for ‘neutral’ or independent reporting. The IFJ said as many as 90 percent of media workers are currently without access to employment or wages due to media shutdowns and it vehemently condemns implementation of rules that will further strangle the once-dynamic media industry.”
Since August, more than 153 media houses have been shut down as permission to broadcast has either been revoked by the Taliban government or has been left financially handicapped.