UN, Amnesty Decry Latest Taliban Crackdown on Afghan Journalism

The United Nations and press freedom advocates Thursday criticized Afghanistan’s Taliban for allegedly banning a journalist organization from holding news conferences without permission from the ruling Islamist group.

“Blocking the media from holding a press conference is a disturbing restriction on free expression,” the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan tweeted. “The Taliban are urged to support dialogue among Afghans and not to try and gag those they think may have different views.”

Officials at the Afghanistan Federation of Journalists and Media said they had organized a press conference in Kabul on Wednesday to share findings of a survey on the status of journalists and media workers in the country, but they were forced by Taliban authorities to cancel the event.

Ali Asghar Akbarzada, a senior member of the federation, told local media the Taliban also verbally instructed his group not to hold any future press conferences without permission from the Ministry of Information and Culture.

Amnesty International denounced attempts by the Taliban to limit access to information and suppress free media were “a blatant attack” on journalism.

“Media plays a pivotal role in informing the world about the situation in Afghanistan. Media workers & journalists must be allowed to work freely & protected,” Amnesty said on Twitter.

A local media monitor, known as Free Speech Hub, denounced the Taliban’s action as a violation of the group’s pledges that they would respect free speech.

Bilal Karimi, a Taliban government spokesman, rejected allegations they were imposing restrictions on freedom of media. Without directly commenting on whether the Taliban blocked the press conference by the media advocacy group, Karimi told VOA that a federation of journalists and media is already “actively” working in Kabul.

“Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) is supportive of it and all media organizations are represented in it,” Karimi said. He alleged that “certain individuals” who quit their jobs or left Afghanistan were “misusing” the name of journalism to “create problems” for the mainstream media.

“Obviously, they are not allowed to undertake such activities under the existing laws and regulations. They need to comply with the legal requirements to bring themselves in line with the existing (media) federation,” he said.

The Taliban pledged to protect media freedom after seizing power last August.

But critics allege media and freedom of speech have worsened under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, citing growing incidents of violence, harassment and torture against media workers.

In December, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a survey, showing that at least 40 percent of media outlets in Afghanistan have disappeared and more than 80 percent of women journalists lost their jobs since the Taliban takeover of the country.

The research, conducted in partnership with the local Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), found that the environment for journalists in the capital, Kabul, and the rest of the country has become “extremely fraught.”

Hundreds of journalists have also left Afghanistan since August for fear of Taliban reprisals or because of problems associated with practicing their profession under the new rulers.

The Taliban have issued a set of “journalism rules,” including media compliance with the Taliban interpretation of Islamic doctrine on “enjoying good and forbidding wrong.”

More than 6,400 journalists and media employees have lost their jobs since August 15 when the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, according to the survey.

Taliban harassment alone is not blamed for the shrinking Afghan media landscape. Observers say many media outlets were receiving national as well as international funding that ended when the Islamist group seized control and the United States-led Western troops left Afghanistan. Their economic troubles have been exacerbated by a loss of advertising revenue.