RSF alarmed by ‘increase’ in Taliban restrictions against journalists

File Photo.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed alarm on Wednesday, March 13, over a worrying increase in restrictions on journalists by the Taliban, including directives on women journalists’ attire, limits on women’s access to audiovisual media, and a prohibition on filming or photographing Taliban officials.

The organization highlighted the growing repression in Afghanistan, particularly targeting women’s access to the media, both as journalists and as audience members.

RSF pointed out a series of directives issued since February that exemplify this trend. The governor of Kandahar, in the country’s south, has banned video footage of local Taliban leaders. In the eastern province of Khost, the police chief has prohibited women from calling into radio or television broadcasts. At a national level, the Taliban’s Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has intensified dress codes for women journalists, mandating they wear attire that covers them entirely, except for their eyes, under threat of losing their jobs.

“At a time when journalists already face severe repression, censorship, and self-censorship, these new regional and national restrictions further erode the Afghan media landscape. The silencing of female listeners and viewers in Khost, the image ban in Kandahar, and the strict dress code for women journalists are alarming indicators of the Taliban’s ideological hardening, particularly against women journalists,” said the South Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders. The organization called on Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada to end these repressive measures.

On Feb. 18, the Taliban governor of Kandahar, Mullah Shirin Akhund, issued a written order preventing officials and soldiers from being photographed or filmed during meetings, allowing only written materials and audio recordings. “The order appears to be selectively applied,” an Afghan journalist in exile, who wished to remain anonymous, noted. This has significantly impacted RTA Kandahar, reducing on-screen human presence in favor of landscapes and buildings. “It’s a starting trend that could become more widespread.”

Educational and Social Programs for Girls Targeted

In Khost province, a Feb. 24 official letter from Police Chief Abdul Rashid Omari banned women from appearing on radio and television programs, specifically affecting media outlets that broadcast educational and social programs for young girls.

Only the Eyes Visible

On Feb. 27 in Kabul, the Taliban’s Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice warned of a total ban on women journalists unless they adhered to a strict dress code, requiring a black outfit that covers the entire body, including the face, with only the eyes visible.

Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, numerous restrictions have severely limited press freedom in Afghanistan, placing the country at 152nd out of 180 in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index.