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Afghan Journalists Navigate a Changed Landscape


FILE - Afghan Journalists attend a press conference of a former president Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 13, 2022.

From regulations on what can be covered to rules on where women can work, journalists say it is increasingly difficult to report in Afghanistan.

Restrictions on media “increased in the past year,” said Dawood Mubarak Oglu, a reporter who covers security and politics for the independent media group Salam Watandar Network.

Oglu told Voice of America it is hard to cover his reporting beat because the Taliban “don’t let journalists cover security issues, such as explosions and suicide attacks.”

“One can only report what the Taliban want to be covered,” the Kabul-based reporter said. “We have to wait for the government statements.”

When the Taliban seized power in August 2021, they said the media would be “free and independent.”

But a month later, new rules for media were imposed that watchdogs and journalists say amount to censorship.

Additionally, the United Nations recorded more than 200 violations against journalists in Afghanistan in 2022, including arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, threats and intimidation.

Against that backdrop Oglu said, journalists in Afghanistan are “suffering from low morale.”

“We don’t feel safe anymore,” he told VOA.

Beh Lih Yi, the Asia program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA that media freedom in Afghanistan “has gone from bad to worse.”

The Taliban’s return had a “devastating effect” on media who are “struggling to survive,” she said.

Scores of radio and TV stations have ceased operating, with some estimates that more than 6,000 journalists are no longer able to work.

Some, like Kabul-based Maryam Hotak, face the double pressure of being a journalist and a woman.

Hotak worked for eight years with two local radio stations – Arakozia and Killid – as well as at the Chinese state media CCTV. But she lost her job at the latter earlier in January, when CCTV failed to renew her contract.

“It has become impossible for women to work as journalists in Afghanistan,” said Hotak.

The journalist said she had a contract with the Beijing operation, which has expanded its network in several countries including Afghanistan in recent years.

Hotak would send her reports to an editor in Afghanistan but, she says, that editor told her that a manager in China had said her reports were negative and that she “should be filing positive reports.”

“I told them that the situation is like that. Is it a positive news story if women are not going to school? Women cannot work and have to stay at home,” Hotak said. “Can I say that they are happy? I can’t. How can they be happy? And, how can I report it in a positive way.”

Taliban regulations on women already make it hard to work, she said.

“The Taliban don’t want to be interviewed by women journalists. Women are not allowed to attend press conferences. They are forced to wear masks on air,” Hotak said.

She added that women are not allowed to enter government buildings without mahram, a close male relative.

“I was stopped many times by the Taliban at the gates of the government organizations. They told me, ‘We will not allow you if there is no mahram with you.’”

Hotak said she wanted to work with a nongovernmental organization, but the Taliban banned women from working in that field. So now she stays at home with her mother and sister, who lost their government jobs after the takeover.

“I don’t have any right in this country. I can’t go to school, to university, and I am not allowed to work,” Hotak said. “I am not seen as a human being, Therefore, I don’t see any reason to stay in this country.”

The Taliban have imposed repressive measures on women in Afghanistan, including banning them from work, secondary and university education, and unaccompanied long-distance travel.

VOA’s request for comment from the Taliban sent via messaging app received no response.

Oglu is also concerned about his future – and that of his chosen profession.

“I am concerned about media. I am concerned about my colleagues, and I am concerned about journalism in the country,” he said.

The reporter said family and friends have suggested he move to Iran, but for the moment, he has declined.

“Until now, I kept my grounds, but I don’t know about the future,” he said.

This story originated in VOA’s Afghan service.

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