Taliban threatens media

Despite Taliban promises to protect press freedoms, reporters remain open targets. The situation is particularly bad for female Afghan journalists.  

By Aneeta Mathur-Ashton

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Afghan reporters in Afghanistan continue to face a major threat to their livelihood since the resurgence of the Taliban and the August withdrawal of U.S. troops.  

Despite Taliban promises to protect press freedoms and allow journalists to continue working, reporters remain open targets. But it’s particularly bad for female Afghan journalists as a significant number of female Afghan journalists have already fled in fear for their safety.  

A report from Reporters Sans Frontières found that fewer than 100 of the 700 female Afghan journalists based in Kabul are still working and that only a handful continue to work from home. 

The same report from Reporters Sans Frontières and its partner organization, the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, found that only 39 female journalists were still working in privately-owned radio and TV stations in Kabul. 

While the Taliban hasn’t laid out explicit guidelines for the media, it did tell all Afghan outlets to reset their news coverage to comply with Islamic laws and national interests. It also has banned female journalists from working at state-owned radio and television stations as well as at media in the provinces. 

Female journalists have been subjected to physical attacks, imprisonment as well as threats against their homes and families. 

UNESCO’s observatory of killed journalists in Afghanistan lists four female reporters killed in 2021. 

“Essentially, the women journalists that I’m talking to are staying at home … they’re fearful,” said Arash Azizzada, a journalist and co-founder of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow and Afghan Diaspora for Equality and Progress.  “They’re a little bit hopeless as well because a few weeks ago they had thriving, promising careers, and now they’re unable to figure out what’s next for them.” 

Azizzada said the resurgence of the Taliban had deeply affected the flow of news and the livelihood of reporters in the country, saying there’s a sense of unspoken self-censorship“to try to see what the Taliban will look like.” 

“I think there’s the first wave of Afghan journalists who have fled or [are] attempting to flee based on, obviously, some of the threats that the Taliban has made in their long history of targeting journalists violently, as well as promises of threats of retribution.” 

Azizzada said the country’s future remains bleak with regard to press freedoms and access to open information.  

“I think we’re slowly slipping into a regime that is going to be regressive and authoritarian … that is going to heavily restrict press freedom and that will try to …  curtail open discussions.”

He said the expectation was that the country is heading into a “slow-motion news blackout” where journalists won’t be able to keep their jobs as the Taliban continues “implicitly restricting press freedoms all across the country.” 

Marvin Weinbaum, the director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the non-profit, non-partisan Middle East Institute, said he fully expects Afghani women journalists will be “severely curtailed, if not totally eliminated.” 

He said the  Taliban first indicated that female journalists could continue to work. “But women cannot work with their mode of thinking together with that, and there’s no way in which you can have them in the newsroom or television production without them being together,” said Weinbaum. 

Weinbaum said he had very little confidence that a free and open media would exist in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban “cannot tolerate a free media,” Weinbaum said. “There’s no way in which they are going to be able to withstand the criticism of what they’re doing.” 

The Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist organization,  fully took control of the county last month after the withdrawal of American forces. Many criticized former President Ashraf Ghani, saying he fled Afghanistan, plunging the country into chaos as the Taliban launched a swift offensive that saw it seizing control of major cities, including Kabul and Kandahar.