Journalists in Afghanistan are facing a new requirement from the Taliban's Ministry of Information and Culture to register and obtain identification cards in order to verify their identities and professional affiliations.
“We started the process in Kabul on Wednesday and have informed provincial authorities to do the same,” Abdul Wahid Rayan, MIC’s director for media monitoring, told VOA.
The identification cards issued to journalists will feature a bar code linked to the MIC website, storing journalists’ photos, names, affiliation and contact information.
Given free of charge, the badges will also include an emergency contact number for journalists to use when encountering security threats or difficulties while performing their jobs.
The Taliban have imposed gender-based restrictions on female journalists and media personnel, but Rayan said female journalists would also be registered and given identification cards.
“So far, no female journalist has registered," he said, "but if they come, we will register and give them ID cards, too.”
Representatives of two free media support organizations told VOA they were not consulted by MIC about the registration drive and expressed concerns about the Taliban’s underlying motives.
“We do not know why [the Taliban] want to do this and what their true intentions are,” said Abdul Qadeem Wyar, president of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee.
“We believe that identification cards from media organizations are sufficient and there is no need to have additional ID cards from the Taliban,” said Sumaya Walizada, a spokesperson for the Afghan Journalists Center.
Echoing concerns voiced by Afghan media support organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said the Taliban’s move appears to impose further controls on the press.
"It is extremely alarming,” Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, told VOA.
“The Taliban's Ministry of Information and Culture is trying to portray the registration drive as a way to protect and support journalists,” Beh said. “But it is the latest move to tighten control and surveillance of journalists and curtail any free and independent reporting in Afghanistan.”
Old, unclear policy
Taliban officials said the policy to register journalists was initiated by the former Afghan government before it collapsed in August 2021.
Despite being in power for nearly two years, the Islamist regime has not enacted a new media law, saying the mass media law approved by the previous government was still largely valid.
As written, the law prohibits government interference in media affairs and offers protection for a free press. In practice, however, the Taliban are widely accused of unlawfully detaining, torturing and harassing journalists and enforcing policies that censor and restrict journalism — charges the Taliban reject.
“The Taliban's crackdown on independent media in Afghanistan has been so catastrophic that there is virtually no free press left in the country,” Beh said.
It is unclear how the Taliban will register freelance reporters, vloggers and foreign journalists who visit Afghanistan for brief assignments.
Several foreign journalists have said they were declared persona non grata by Taliban authorities because of their perceived bias while reporting on events in Afghanistan.
Over the past two years, thousands of Afghan journalists have left the country as scores of media outlets have gone out of operation, largely because of the lack of resources and Taliban restrictions.