Afghanistan: Watchdog alarmed by recent moves against media

File Photo.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by the escalating repression of journalists and media in Afghanistan, including arrests, the blocking of websites and, this week, a heavy-handed raid on a TV channel in Kabul.

RSF also said the Taliban government must free the detained journalists and respect press freedom.

Journalists at the Kabul headquarters of the independent Tamadon TV channel were on the point of going home at 4:20 p.m. on 14 February when ten armed Taliban members stormed the building, held the staff “hostage” for more than 30 minutes, assaulted some of them, insulted them and accused them of being “infidel Hazaras” who broadcast “information contrary to the Islamic Emirate’s interests.”

After talking to the head of Tamadon TV, they finally left, taking two of the TV channel’s vehicles with them, but they threatened to return. The specific reason for the raid is still unclear, but one of the TV channel’s employees told RSF that “the lives of Tamadon’s journalists are now in great danger” and he said he was no longer living at home.

Antoine Bernard, RSF Advocacy and Assistance Director said in a statement: “The heavy-handed raid on the premises of Tamadon TV and the assault against its personnel is a very disturbing intimidation attempt. With the recent arrests of three journalists and the blocking of two news websites, the crackdown on journalists is intensifying.

“The Taliban authorities must stop this escalation and respect the media law, which guarantees the freedom to report the news, as they have promised to do. First and foremost, we call on them to release all the journalists currently detained,” he said.

This is not the first time that pressure has been put on Tamadon TV. The Taliban government already warned the TV channel that its content should respect Islamic values as defined by the Taliban and that it should avoid criticising the Taliban government. And during the last Ramadan, from 2 April to 2 May 2022, intelligence officials ordered Tamadon TV to stop broadcasting films and series.

Arrests and censorship

The Tamadon TV raid is part of a more general escalation of the harassment of media personnel. Zarghoon TV journalist Qotratullah Tarar’s arrest in Khost on 11 November was followed more recently by the arrests of three journalists in the space of a few weeks: The Franco-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi, on 7 January, Khairullah Parhar, a journalist with the radio and TV station Enikass, in Nangarhar province, on 9 January, and Mohammad Yaar Majroh, a reporter for TOLONews, one of Afghanistan’s leading TV channels, on 14 February.

Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America reported last week that the Afghan telecommunications regulator was blocking access to their websites. The two broadcasters were forced off the airwaves in Afghanistan last December.

Diminished media landscape

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021 has had a devastating impact on its media landscape. More than half of the 526 media outlets active during the previous two decades have had to close. The print media are now entirely controlled by the Taliban and nearly half of the radio stations have stopped operating. Of the 30 news sites that Afghanistan had before August 2021, nearly 60% had shut down and most have had to move abroad.