Authorities in Afghanistan censor the work of journalists and even resort to beating up journalists covering issues that the Taliban finds discomforting.
Taliban authorities have carried out far-reaching censorship and violence against Afghan media in district and provincial centres, says Human Rights Watch.
This has drastically limited critical reporting in Afghanistan, particularly impacting journalists outside the capital city Kabul. Women journalists are worst affected and face the most intense repression.
Journalists in the provinces described Taliban members threatening, detaining, and beating them and their colleagues who were trying to report the news, HRW says, adding that many journalists have felt compelled to self-censor and report only Taliban statements and official events.
“Taliban harassment and attacks on journalists outside major urban areas have largely gone unreported, causing media outlets in outlying provinces to self-censor or close altogether,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “In many provinces, the Taliban have virtually eliminated reporting on a wide range of issues and have driven women journalists out of the profession.”
On February 2, 2022, the Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, told a meeting of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, a media advocacy group, that journalists should consider “national interests, Islamic values, and national unity” before publishing. He said that a new media commission would be established to address any problems, and that the authorities would enforce the former government’s media law. He also said without elaborating that “women can work freely in the media by observing Islamic and national principles.”
Music on radio and television has disappeared since the Taliban took over. Even advertisements were not allowed to play background music. A journalist in Kapisa said, “there are no longer any political shows or live programs; these have been replaced with more Islamic programs.”
The HRW report speaks of journalists throughout Afghanistan facing severe restrictions on doing their work by the Taliban. This is in violation of the Afghan media law and international human rights standards on freedom of expression and the media. An estimated 80 percent of women journalists across Afghanistan have lost their jobs or left the profession since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, and hundreds of media outlets have closed.
The HRW study involved 24 journalists and other media workers in 17 of the country’s 34 provinces. Journalists in each of these provinces said the Taliban actively monitor their publications and compel them to share the content of their reports with the provincial directorate of information and culture before publication. Many of the journalists said that Taliban intelligence officials regularly meet with media organizations to tell them what to publish and to warn them not to contradict Taliban policies or to report on acts of violence by Taliban officials.
“We all fear for our safety,” a reporter in Baghlan said. “If something happens to a journalist, there is no institution or system to support them, or to seek justice. There is no support for the media workers in Afghanistan right now.”
Many journalists said they or their colleagues had been beaten for trying to report on anti-Taliban protests, arbitrary detention, rising food prices, and other subjects that cast Taliban officials in a bad light. In some provinces, Taliban officials told all women journalists to stop working. The few who are allowed to work can no longer have roles in which they come face-to-face with the public.
“Getting the news from Afghanistan’s rural areas has never been easy, but the Taliban’s repression of the media in the provinces is dangerous both for the journalists and the people whose lives are harmed by unreported abuses,” Abbasi said. “Governments should press the Taliban to end to all attacks on the media, whether in Kabul or the countryside.”
A female journalist in Balkh said that, in September, Taliban soldiers had beaten her on the street while she was trying to cover women’s protests. She said: “Journalists can easily get beaten by Taliban soldiers in the streets and no one will be held responsible. In the past few months, a journalist from Arezo TV has been beaten and a Pajhwak journalist in Balkh has been arrested.”
A journalist in Kandahar said that, in December, Taliban members beat him while he was on the street preparing a report on the rise in food prices. That month, the Taliban detained two journalists and badly beat them in custody. One was released after a few hours, the other after six days. Their colleague said that both have remained under surveillance.
An editor working outside of Kabul said that, in December, one of his journalists went to the passport office to report on the difficulties Afghans were having obtaining passports. A member of the Taliban police badly beat him and confiscated his camera.