Violence, arrests and unclear media laws are adding to a difficult environment for Afghan journalists.
Several journalists have been attacked or detained, and some who were beaten say the Taliban have done nothing to hold those responsible accountable. Media experts say a lack of laws and state institutions is exacerbating the problem.
Since the start of the year, at least four journalists have been detained, including three who were arrested on January 6 after covering protests against the Taliban in Panjshir province, where a Taliban fighter killed a civilian.
The journalists work for a YouTube-based media outlet called Kabul Lovers, which has 244,000 subscribers.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid accused the journalists of manufacturing stories.
Referring to the news team as “so-called journalists,” Mujahid told VOA they were arrested after traveling to Panjshir in the northeast, where they “made an uproar and shot videos without doing any investigation into the case.”
The spokesperson said the journalists were detained by the Taliban’s intelligence to “punish” them. “They were made to understand that this can harm public and national security,” he said.
Separately, the Taliban also arrested Faizullah Jalal, a professor of law and political science at Kabul University, on January 8.
Jalal was detained for four days on accusations of making “nonsensical” statements and “inciting” people against the Taliban.
After his release, Jalal told VOA’s sister network Radio Azadi that his arrest was connected to a televised debate in which he took part with a Taliban spokesperson in November.
Part of the problem is that the Taliban issued guidelines for journalists, but “there is no media law,” said Hujatullah Mujadadi, vice president of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association. “I am not sure if there is a plan for something like that, but we have not seen it yet.”
In the early days of the Taliban takeover, Mujadadi represented the independent journalists association on a three-person committee set up by the Talban to address media issues.
The Taliban issued a series of directives to the media in September, including a ban on content deemed to go against Islam or national figures, and said the media should coordinate with authorities on reporting. But journalists and media analysts say the Taliban have not said whether media laws that existed under the previous government were still in force.
Abdul Subhan Misbah, former deputy of the Lawyers Union of Afghanistan, also believes an absence of state institutions is the problem.
“A commission cannot deal with criminal cases. Killings and beatings of journalists are cases that police, attorneys and judges should deal with. The Taliban have to have formal government institutions,” Misbah said.
Climate of impunity
Mujadadi said violence against journalists has increased under the Taliban.
“No investigation has been conducted or the perpetrators brought to justice yet,” he said.
Sadaqat Ghorzang, a freelance reporter who contributes to Afghan media outlet Tolo News, is still waiting for the Taliban to investigate an attack from October 2021.
Members of the Taliban beat Ghorzang and threw his equipment into a river when he was reporting from Torkham, a town in eastern Nangarhar province, where Afghans were trying to cross into neighboring Pakistan.
“Just after the incident, the Taliban apologized. But when I went out, other Taliban fighters started threatening me,” Ghorzang told VOA.
The Taliban promised to look into his complaint, but nothing has come of it, he said.
Mujahid and Qari Mohammad Hanif, head of the Nangarhar provincial department of information and culture, both said they would investigate, Ghorzang said, “but nothing happened.”
“It is difficult to live and work here in Afghanistan,” Ghorzang told VOA.
The lack of accountability is increasing fear among media members.
In mid-January, images of Kabul journalist Zaki Qais circulated on news and media rights websites showing cuts and wounds to his face and neck after an attack in his home.
Qais is also a filmmaker who covered human rights issues.
On January 15, two people claiming to be local police knocked on the journalist’s door and then hit and stabbed him, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. He said he had been threatened because of his social media posts and whipped by the Taliban while filming a women’s rights protest in Kabul last year.
Such cases add to the unease among journalists.
“We are very afraid,” said one Kabul-based journalist. “Any Taliban soldier can harass, beat or detain a journalist without any reason.”
The journalist, who did not want to disclose his identity for fear of reprisal, said the intimidation and jailings were concerning.
“It is becoming impossible to work as a journalist under the Taliban,” the unnamed journalist said.
The journalist, who worked with local and international media for about 15 years, said reporters are stopped and questioned at checkpoints and that it is getting harder to find people willing to speak.
“Whenever we go to report, they ask us many times, ‘Where have you been? Where are you coming from? Where do you go? Who do you work for?’ ” the journalist said.
“There is fear everywhere. Everyone is afraid. Common people do not want to talk to us. Experts are threatened. You know what happened to Professor Jalal?” the journalist said, referring to the university teacher detained earlier in January.
The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the repressive environment and called for the Taliban to free any detained journalists and secure justice for those attacked or threatened.
“The disturbing trend of arrests and attacks against journalists and media workers in Afghanistan continues to grow under the Taliban regime,” the IFJ said in a statement. “The Taliban must cease its harassment of the media and display a tangible commitment to safeguarding press freedom.”
Misbah, of the Lawyers Union of Afghanistan, said the Taliban should guarantee access to justice to journalists in the country.
“They should work at least on a mechanism to address the worries that journalists have. They feel that there is no justice for them under the Taliban,” he said.
Najiba Khalil contributed to this report, which originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.