Afghanistan: Watchdog confirms journalist freed from Taliban custody

Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) said in a statement on Sunday that Mohammad Yar Majroh, a journalist who worked for TOLOnews has been released, five days after being arrested by the Taliban.

The organization said that Majroh was released on Sunday afternoon. He was arrested on Wednesday, Feb. 15, after he was summoned to the Taliban’s intelligence office in Kandahar.

His family has not commented about the conditions of his release, AFJC said.

Journalists should not be summoned and arrested in the first place, the AFJC said, adding that three other journalists still in custody also need to be released. The organization said complaints against journalists and media outlets should be handled by the media violation committee, and journalists should be allowed to work without fear of being arrested.

According to the organization, three journalists, including Qudratullah Tarar from Zarghon TV in Khost, Khairullah Parhar from Jalalabad and Murtaza Behbudi, an Afghan-French journalist, are currently in Taliban custody.

The AFJC said Tarar was arrested on Nov. 11, 2022, Parhar was detained on Jan. 9, 2023 and Behbudi was taken into custody on Jan. 7, 2023.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this week that it is alarmed by the escalating repression of journalists and media in Afghanistan, including arrests, the blocking of websites and the “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 by the other three, while last week, Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America confirmed the Afghan telecommunications regulator was blocking access to their websites. The two broadcasters were forced off the airwaves in Afghanistan last December.