Taliban violence, intimidation of journalists meant to stifle freedom of speech

By Khesraw


In this picture taken on September 8, Afghan journalists Nematullah Naqdi (right) and Taqi Daryabi of the newspaper Etilaat Roz sit in their office after being released from Taliban custody in Kabul. The two Afghan journalists showed ugly welts and bruises after being beaten and detained for hours by Taliban fighters for covering a protest. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- Journalists in the weeks following the Taliban's takeover in August have been reporting increased violence and intimidation at the hands of the militants.

The Taliban, for instance, on September 8 in Kabul arrested five journalists from Etilaat Roz (Information Daily) as they covered a women's rights protest.

Zaki Daryabi, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, shared images on social media of two of the detained reporters, one with large, red welts across his lower back and legs and the other with similar marks on his shoulder and arm.

"One of the Taliban put his foot on my head, crushed my face against the concrete. They kicked me in the head... I thought they were going to kill me," photographer Nematullah Naqdi told AFP.

Naqdi said that a Taliban fighter accosted him as soon as he started taking pictures.

"They told me 'You may not film,'" he said.

"They arrested all those who were filming and took their phones," Naqdi said.

The Taliban earlier on August 18 also allegedly beat and tortured Nawed Mahmoud Naimi, an Ariana News cameraman, and Babrak Amizada, a Pajhwok News Agency photographer, as they filmed a protest in Jalalabad.

The same day, Khoshid TV reporter Nawed Ahmad Kawosh was beaten by the Taliban while reporting near Kabul airport.

Beatings, torture, censorship

Afghan journalists are experiencing arrests, beatings, torture, censorship of content and a growing threat to reporting, said Sekandar Ahmadi, a journalist in Parwan.

The Taliban's detention of and violence against journalists "and their threats show the authoritarian treatment of the journalists by the Taliban", he said.

Ahmadi, who worked with various media outlets in Afghanistan for 15 years, said he can no longer work independently because of security concerns.

Hundreds of journalists in similar positions have either fled the country or given up on journalism, he said.

"As many as 14 journalists were detained by the Taliban in recent days and were released after mediation by journalists' advocacy groups," said Zahra Joya, an Afghan journalist who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover.

"Over the past years, we have witnessed a growing wave of targeting of journalists by the Taliban," she said.

"We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force towards, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests," Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office, said September 10.

"[There is] lots of intimidation of journalists who are trying to simply do their job," she said.

'No hope' for Afghan media

The Taliban have claimed they will uphold press freedoms -- in line with unspecified Islamic principles -- although journalists are increasingly being harassed covering protests across the country.

Few believe the Taliban's assurances.

"Unfortunately, there is no hope that the Taliban will allow free and impartial reporting because it appears they do not believe in freedom of speech and media independence," Joya said.

"We are in close contact with our fellow journalists in some provinces and understand that the Taliban have stopped media operations," she said, referring to a recent Taliban ban on female journalists in Herat.

Ahmadi, the journalist in Parwan, said the Taliban do not want to risk their reputation by allowing journalists to report freely and independently, and are becoming more violent toward them and free media with each passing day.

More than 150 media outlets have been shut down since the Taliban took control of the country, with hundreds of journalists having been laid off, according to Ahmadi.

In Parwan, the Taliban have allowed only one of nine pre-existing radio outlets to continue broadcasting but with restrictions on political programmes and news bulletins.

With the arrival of the Taliban, serious changes have come to Afghan media activities, said Khoshnod Nabi Zada, the editor-in-chief of Khaama Press.

Journalists, including Zada himself, have fled abroad because they fear possible reprisals by the Taliban, he said.

Khaama Press and Zada himself were targeted by suicide bombers in the past, he noted.

"Fearing repression and violence from the Taliban, dozens of journalists have gone into hiding and are still seeking a way out of Afghanistan," Zada added.

Meanwhile, the media outlets still operating have not been able to report properly, according to Zada.

"Access to information has been very limited," he said, adding that media outlets are also facing financial challenges.

Unless the Taliban change their policy, the media have no hope of continuing operations under their rule, Zada said.

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