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Media Rights Groups Demand Help for Afghan Journalists

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on Aug. 17, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on Aug. 17, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan.

The Taliban gave a first insight into how they view the media's role Tuesday, telling a news conference in Kabul that journalists are free to report and that they should "promote the unity of the nation."

The press conference is the first held since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan over the weekend, after seizing nearly all the country's districts.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the news conference that reporting against Islamic law, or Shariah, would not be allowed, but that media could report critically on the government if they are fair and balanced and promote national values.

"We want to reassure all media and broadcast groups that if they work according to our Islamic rules, to Shariah, they will be free," Mujahid said, according to a BBC translation.

The news conference came as international news outlets and media rights groups called on Western governments to ensure the safety of their Afghan colleagues.

On August 2, the U.S. State Department said that journalists working for U.S.-based media or nongovernmental organizations would be eligible for the Priority 2, or P-2, designation that gives them and their families the chance to resettle in the U.S.

The announcement was welcomed by media rights groups, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which had warned that journalists were at heightened risk of violence.

The CPJ is working with the U.S. military and the governments of Germany, Britain and Canada to resettle journalists at risk. As of Monday, the CPJ had received more than 475 requests for help from media in Afghanistan.

"It's simply not safe for journalists to stay there right now, especially women journalists," CPJ emergencies director Maria Salazar-Ferro told The Associated Press.

The publisher of the Washington Post sent a request to the Biden administration Monday, seeking assistance in moving several staff members and their families to the military side of Kabul airport, the AP reported. The request was made on behalf of more than 200 journalists, support staff and their families who worked for the Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria, has said the international community "has an immediate responsibility to protect the lives and safety of Afghanistan's journalists, who have personified courage in reporting from what was already one of the world's most dangerous countries for the press."

"This means concrete action, including the provision of travel documents and evacuation flights. There is no time for delay," IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in a statement.

At least 100 news outlets closed as fighting intensified, and at least one radio station in Kandahar province was relaunched as "Voice of Shariah" — the name of the only media outlet that existed during the Taliban's rule in the 1990s, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.

Local journalist associations have documented a rise in threats against the media from the Taliban in recent months, including accusing some of propagandizing for the government. In Takhar province, several journalists were told they would face serious consequences unless they adapted their reporting to the Taliban's instructions.

Afghanistan's vibrant media scene is a testament to the country's progress in the past 20 years. But a rise in attacks, targeted killings and threats had led many in recent months to leave the profession and, in some cases, the country.

About a dozen journalists and media workers have been killed since the intra-Afghan peace negotiations started in September 2020, including Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, a correspondent for VOA's sister network Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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