Are the Taliban now showing their true face to journalists?

An increase in arrests and use of violence against journalists in Afghanistan in the past few days signals an alarming turning point in Taliban behaviour towards the press, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Unless they quickly prove the contrary, the Taliban are clearly letting their masks fall.

Afghan journalists have been harassed by the Taliban, arrested and beaten with cables. Some reporters have been subjected to mistreatment amounting to torture. Incidents involving media personnel have been on the rise in both Kabul and provincial cities since the start of the week.

“Less than a month after taking power, the Taliban seem to be letting their masks fall,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “This crackdown on the media has come immediately after the new government was announced. What remains of the Taliban undertakings to respect press freedom and protect journalists? The only way for the Taliban to prove that their pledges are worth anything is to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice without delay and to prevent further violations of journalists’ basic rights.”

It's in the capital, where the last women’s protest was declared illegal three hours after it was dispersed on 8 September, that the Taliban have acted with the most violence towards journalists.

The victims include Taqi Daryabi and Nematullah Naqdi, who work as photographers and cameramen for the daily newspaper Etilaat Roz (“Newsday”). They were arrested while covering the women’s protest in Kabul and were taken to a police station where they were separated and then beaten and whipped with cables.

When three other Etilaat Roz journalists went to the police station to request their release, they were also arrested. “My colleagues would like to know what has become of the people who tortured them, and they want justice,” Etilaat Roz editor Zaki Daryabi said 48 hours later.

Foreign journalists – who until now had been tolerated and had managed to continue working – are also being harassed. Los Angeles Times photographer Marcus Yam tweeted that he was prevented from covering the women’s protest on the grounds that it is “forbidden in Islam to take pictures of women.”

Another foreign photographer had equipment seized from her twice in the space of two and a half days. The first time was when she was returning from reporting in the Panjshir region. The second time, she was at the location where the women’s protest had just been dispersed. A foreign reporter who was with her was beaten with a pipe and then arrested. He was released two hours later.

“They’ve begun trying to scare you,” a French female journalist said. “They show you broken cameras and they say: ‘If we see you at a demonstration again, your camera will end up like this.’”

Whether foreign or Afghan, all journalists now fear being stopped and searched at the checkpoints installed almost everywhere in the capital. Internet cuts have also been reported in neighbourhoods where protests have taken place.

Reports that the Taliban plan to impose new rules on digital communications and are trying to control social media chats and apps such as WhatsApp are also fuelling the concerns of journalists, whose freedom to operate is shrinking by the day.

Afghanistan was ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index that RSF published in April.

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Updated on 10.09.2021