CPJ calls on Taliban to stop censoring news outlets in Afghanistan

File photo

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Monday called for the Taliban to stop censoring news outlets in Afghanistan and restore access to the websites of the U.S.-Congress funded broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azadi Radio.

In a statement issued by the CPJ, it was noted that the websites of both outlets are inaccessible on three of Afghanistan’s privately owned telecommunications providers – Afghan Wireless, Roshan, and Etisalat Afghanistan – but remain accessible to users of the state-owned telecom company Salam, according to a report by VOA, a statement by RFE/RL, and two journalists inside the country who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

VOA reported last week that users in different provinces had experienced issues accessing the websites for at least two weeks. This comes after the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture banned VOA and RFE/RL’s radio transmissions on December 1, 2022.

“The restrictions on access to VOA and RFE/RL’s websites inside Afghanistan reflect an escalated attack on press freedom and the Afghan people’s right to information,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Taliban must lift all restrictions on access to online news media inside Afghanistan and cease their relentless campaign of media censorship.”

The broadcasters’ websites remain accessible to those using virtual private networking (VPN) software, according to the journalists who spoke with CPJ.

The Taliban-controlled Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority directed telecommunication providers to block access to the website of Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of RFE/RL on orders by Taliban officials, Radio Azadi head Qadir Habib told Amu TV last week.

CPJ emailed the regulator and contacted Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any replies.In August, CPJ published a special report about the media crisis in Afghanistan, showing a rapid deterioration in press freedom since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, marked by censorship, arrests, assaults, and restrictions on women journalists.