The Afghanistan Bulletin
Freedom of Speech Disappears under Taliban Rule: Media Industry Faces Severe Restrictions, Persecution, Punishment, and Closures
Despite pledges to have “free and independent” media, the Taliban have continued to intimidate and censor individual media workers, especially women, and the industry as a whole. Media workers and journalists have been detained, physically abused, and tortured on numerous occasions. Since seizing power in mid-August, the Taliban have beaten and arbitrarily detained more than 32 journalists, with most being released only after public pleas to the Taliban leadership. One journalist was beaten harshly and released on the condition not to speak publicly about their ordeal, while another is still in the Taliban's custody with no access to his family, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
On Sep 6, Photojournalist Morteza Samadi, 21, was arrested by the Taliban when he was covering a protest by female activists in Herat. According to the latest HRW report about Afghan media, for more than three weeks, Samadi’s whereabouts were unknown, with the Taliban denying his family access to him. They were told by the Taliban that his case was referred to the intelligence department because Samadi was allegedly associated with “organizing the protests” and “conspiring with the foreigners”. The Taliban finally released Samadi on Sep 30. Besides the detentions, Taliban intelligence operatives have summoned certain journalists and media workers, warning them that their work promoted “propaganda” and must stop.
According to Aljazeera, in a meeting with journalists late last month, the Taliban Ministry of Information and Culture introduced a set of broad-ranging and ambiguous media regulations that if taken at face value would eliminate a free and independent press in Afghanistan. The new guidelines bar media from reporting and broadcasting anything that is “contrary to Islam,” “insults national figures,” or “distorts news content.” It goes on to say that journalists and media workers have a need to “ensure that their reporting is balanced” and avoid reporting on issues and matters that are unconfirmed by officials or could affect the public perception in a negative way. What’s more, the press and media outlets are obliged to “prepare detailed reports” in coordination with the Government Media and Information Center, the new governmental regulatory body.
The measures clearly send a message to the media that they should promote the Taliban’s propaganda or risk being shut down. Sami Mehdi, a well-known Afghan TV journalist says that the new directives leave “a lot of space for personal interpretation. They will use it to limit freedom of expression.” The first rule, Mehdi maintains, is very concerning since “what is contrary to Islam and what is not, is a big topic of debate.” HRW Associate Director for Asia, Patricia Gossman says, “despite the Taliban’s promises to allow media that ‘respected Islamic values’ to function, the new rules are suffocating media freedom in the country. The Taliban regulations are so sweeping that journalists are self-censoring and fear ending up in prison.”
Since the fall of Kabul, nearly 153 media outlets spanning radio, print, and television channels have shut down due to Taliban restrictions and lack of funding from the international community. Tolo News reported that according to organizations supporting free media, these outlets include radio, print, and television channels.
Afghanistan Parliament Member, Afghanistan-US Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council Board Member, Testified at Senate Hearing
DPPC Advisory Board Member Naheed Farid testified Tuesday in a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Ms. Farid, who is chairwoman of the Afghanistan Parliament’s Human Rights, Civil Society, and Women’s Affairs Committee, said in her testimony:
A free and democratic Afghanistan that I committed my life to build, the Afghanistan that me and my generation, and the Gen z’ers that followed us, love, and cherish, that Afghanistan still exists. It exists in the pulse of our cities, in our green landscapes and in our rugged terrain. A free and democratic Afghanistan exists in our hearts and our minds. We will reclaim this dream that the Taliban took away from us. We will fight them, on all levels, until they give us our freedom back.
DPPC Executive Director Martin Amin Rahmani said that “as the rightful representative for the people of Herat and champion of women and girls in Afghanistan, Mrs. Farid’s testimony comes at a critical moment in the country’s history.”