July 19, 2021 - Updated on October 5, 2021

As US withdraws its forces from Afghanistan, RSF calls for a stronger protection of journalists

Wakil Koshar / AFP
A Reuters journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Danish Siddiqui, was killed on July 16, 2021, while covering fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan. As the United States withdraws its remaining troops from the country, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by escalating violence against journalists and calls on the authorities to better protect the media, especially women, from targeted violence and threats.

President Biden announced in mid-April that all US combat forces would leave Afghanistan by September 11, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers in New York City that led to America’s longest war. Journalists in Afghanistan have faced dangerous and deadly conditions in the two decades since the US and allied NATO forces went to war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. At least 100 journalists, including 15 international journalists, have been killed in connection with their work in the past 20 years. 

 "Since the withdrawal of foreign forces led by the United States, the war has intensified,'' said the director of a radio station in Balkh province to RSF, an area that the Taliban have occupied in the region recently. “The Taliban have occupied more territories and where they have entered, journalists have fled and media are restricted. Their condition is no music, no women's voices and no information against Mojahadins."

RSF is deeply concerned that the troop withdrawal will create an information vacuum and that the space for journalism will dwindle or disappear entirely,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “It is absolutely clear that there will be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without a purposeful commitment to the protection of journalists and to press freedom from the authorities.” 

“As US troops depart Afghanistan and the longest running conflict in American history draws to an end, we’re underlining the need for journalists and members of the media to be able to do their work freely and safely,” said Anna K. Nelson, RSF USA’s Executive Director. “Press freedom is one of the cornerstones of a functioning society and the ability for people to access reliable information remains imperative.”

In addition to the black holes of information, journalists who have been under the pressure of the Taliban and the weight of traditionalist society have been forced to leave these regions. Consistent violence against journalists, including female reporters, is deeply alarming. In a country where women are consistently the targets of fundamentalist propaganda, at least three female journalists have been murdered in 2021: Mursal Wahidi, Sadia Sadat, and Shahnaz Roafi. Another journalist, Malala Maiwand, was murdered by a gunman on December 10, 2020. 

In May, RSF began to sound the alarm about the plight of the media and the future of journalism and press freedom in Afghanistan. Last month, RSF asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the murder of journalists in Afghanistan which could be regarded as war crimes – under Article 15 of the ICC’s Rome statute. 

Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.