Tehran ‘working’ to release Iranian journalist in Taliban custody

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Wednesday morning that Tehran is “seriously pursuing” the release of the Iranian photojournalist Mohammad Hossein Velayati who was detained by the Taliban in Kabul five days ago.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed the arrest of Velayati in a press release late Tuesday.

According to the CPJ, the photojournalist, who works for Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency, was arrested on August 19 at Kabul International Airport before boarding a flight to Iran.

Velayati had traveled to Afghanistan for a 10-day personal visit, according to sources. The Taliban has not disclosed any reason for Velayati’s detention or where he was being held as of Tuesday.

“The detention of Iranian photojournalist Mohammad Hossein Velayati is the latest blow to press freedom in Afghanistan, as the Taliban has ramped up its efforts to crack down on the media in recent weeks,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Kuala Lumpur.

“Taliban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Velayati, explain why they detained him in the first place, and end these arbitrary arrests once and for all.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kan’ani said immediately after learning about the issue, the foreign ministry started the follow-ups with the relevant Taliban authorities.

The Taliban has detained at least five other journalists this month on claims they worked for media outlets operating from exile. Authorities also banned women’s voices from broadcasts in Helmand province.

Since the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Taliban’s repression of the media in Afghanistan has worsened. On the second anniversary of the group’s return to power, CPJ called on the Taliban to stop its relentless campaign of intimidation and abide by its promise to protect journalists in Afghanistan.