The Taliban have closed a local women's radio station in the northeastern province of Badakhshan for broadcasting music. Media watchdogs considered the move an attempt to bar women from working in media in the province.
On Friday, Mazuddin Ahmadi, the Taliban's director of information and culture for Badakhshan province, told VOA that Radio Sada-e-Banowan (Voice of Women Radio) was closed because it "violated policies."
"We repeatedly told them that airing music is forbidden and you should not air music," said Ahmadi. "Unfortunately, during the month of Ramadan, they ignored several warnings and aired music. Finally, yesterday, after consulting with elders, we closed the radio station."
Ahmadi said that "the closure is temporary, and if the radio officials guarantee that they will not air music, we will allow the radio to broadcast again."
But a local journalist in the province who has knowledge of the case and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told VOA that the radio station's local programs did not include any music.
"The Taliban claimed that music was aired, but they did not say when and what type of music was aired," the journalist said.
He added that even before the Taliban's takeover, radio stations in Badakhshan province had avoided broadcasting music during the holy month of Ramadan.
The journalist said the local Taliban authorities "planned to close the women-run radio in the province months ago, and they did it during the month of Ramadan."
Radio Sada-e-Banowan was one of the few Afghan radio stations run by women that had been operating since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders reported that there were no female journalists in 11 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, and that about 600 of the 2,700 female reporters active before the Taliban took control were still working in the country.
After returning to power, the Taliban imposed repressive measures on women, including banning them from work, secondary and university education, and unaccompanied long-distance travel.
The Taliban in Badakhshan "asked women media workers not to go to offices. Therefore, women working with the radio station were producing their shows at home and then airing them on the radio," said Gul Mohammad Graan, president of the Afghan chapter of the South Asian Association of Reporters Club and Journalists Forum.
No media law
Graan told VOA that the problem arises from a misunderstanding on the part of implementing the media law.
"I think there is a legal vacuum, and it has created misunderstanding. Radio and other media operators and managers do not know what to broadcast, and [the Taliban's] government officials in different provinces have their own interpretation of the broadcasting directives."
In September 2021, shortly after coming to power, the Taliban issued broadcasting directives that media watchdogs interpreted as a sign that the Taliban planned to censor media content in the country.
"Notifications and letters are not enough," Graan said. "If the previous media law does not have any problem, then it should be enacted. If not, then they should come up with a new media law."
In February 2022, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban had no issue with enacting the media law under the former government. He promised to revive the Joint Media and Media Violation commissions.
According to media watchdogs, the press freedom situation has deteriorated in Taliban-run Afghanistan, where media face censorship and violence and women's voices are largely silenced.
Facing worst situation
Hamid Obaidi, a former journalism lecturer at Kabul University and the head of the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization, told VOA he believes the closure of women-run radio in Badakhshan is an attempt to stop women from working in media.
"In the past several months, we have witnessed that women journalists and media workers face repressive restrictions. This means that the Taliban have problems with women journalists working, and they aim to stop women from working," he said.
He added that the situation for female journalists in Afghanistan has become increasingly difficult under the Taliban.
"Women journalists who continue to work face the worst situation in Afghanistan," he said.
Ekram Shinwari and VOA's Afghan Service contributed to this report.