Taliban authorities have carried out far-reaching censorship and violence against Afghan media in district and provincial centers, drastically limiting critical reporting in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said today. The situation facing journalists outside Kabul appears much worse than inside the capital, particularly for women.
Journalists in the provinces have described Taliban members threatening, detaining, and beating them and their colleagues who were trying to report the news. Many journalists have felt compelled to self-censor and report only Taliban statements and official events. Women journalists have faced the most intense repression.
“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.”
But journalists throughout Afghanistan have said that the Taliban severely restrict their work 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.
Human Rights Watch spoke with 24 journalists and other media workers in 17 of the country’s 34 provinces to learn about conditions outside of Kabul. 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.”