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Taliban Detain Journalists, Issue Bans in Media Crackdown 


FILE - In this photo taken on Sept. 29, 2020, radio presenter Shukria Wali reads the news during a broadcast at the Merman radio station in Kandahar.

The Taliban on Monday detained six Kandahar radio journalists for several hours and briefly shut down their stations for violating a ban on music.

The actions are part of a broader crackdown on the country's once free but increasingly beleaguered media, rights experts say.

In the Kandahar case, Taliban intelligence agents questioned the six journalists and released them only after their station managers agreed to stop playing music in line with a new Taliban directive, according to Mohammad Yar Majrooh. The Kandahar-based representative for the Afghan Independent Journalists Association helped negotiate their release.

A seventh Kandahar-based journalist, Mirwais Atal, arrested Saturday in an unrelated case, was also released Monday, Majrooh told VOA.

A self-styled feminist, Atal was accused of using social media to denounce the Taliban's policies on girls and women, Majrooh said.

The detentions shook up the close-knit media community in Kandahar where the few radio stations that had remained on air after the Taliban's return to power last August had been allowed to air music despite a ban on entertainment elsewhere in the country.

"No outlet has shut down yet, but some people are saying they might have to close their stations (as a result of the detentions)," Majrooh said.

Taliban intelligence officials met with radio station managers Sunday to warn them about the new ban on music, and when several stations defied the order Monday, Taliban agents raided their compounds, according to local journalists.

"Beginning today, there will be no music," Majrooh said.

Media advocacy groups decried the detentions as an assault on press freedom in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban’s approach to the media is like that of any other authoritarian regime," said Amy Brouillette, director of advocacy for the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

"It views a free and independent media, as well all other independent institutions and civil society, as a fundamental threat, and it seeks to control the press through a mix of legal measures and censorship, as well as through the intimidation and harassment of journalists," Brouillette said.

A representative for the Taliban did not respond to VOA’s request via text for comment.

Foreign media ban

On Sunday, the Taliban ordered local broadcasters to stop carrying news programs produced by international broadcasters including VOA.

A senior Taliban ministry of information and culture official told TOLOnews that while the Taliban did not object to the content of the international news programs, they ordered them off air because their female broadcasters' dress code violated Islamic law and Afghan values.

TOLOnews, a leading Afghan news channel, is a VOA affiliate.

The three international broadcasters condemned the move.

“We ask the Taliban to reconsider this troubling and unfortunate decision,” Acting VOA Director Yolanda Lόpez said in a statement Sunday. “The content restrictions that the Taliban are attempting to impose are antithetical to freedom of expression that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” said Lόpez.

FILE - Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, speaks with members of the media outside of the White House, Oct. 16, 2019.
FILE - Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, speaks with members of the media outside of the White House, Oct. 16, 2019.

Michael McCaul, the Republican ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Taliban's latest media crackdown was par for the course.

"We are once again seeing the Taliban show their true colors," McCaul said in a statement to VOA. "The U.S. must continue to support independent media to counter the Taliban’s media suppression and human rights violations.”

After seizing power last August, the Taliban pledged to respect press freedom. But in the months that followed, they moved to bar any content deemed at odds with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan culture.

Earlier this month, the Taliban's ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice ordered TOLO to stop broadcasting foreign dramas. When the network reported on the directive, Taliban agents detained its director, top news anchor and a legal adviser.

AFGHANISTAN-UNRESTIn this photograph taken on October 12, 2021, radio presenter Ebrahim Parhar reads the news during a broadcast at radio station Urooj in Farah province.
AFGHANISTAN-UNRESTIn this photograph taken on October 12, 2021, radio presenter Ebrahim Parhar reads the news during a broadcast at radio station Urooj in Farah province.

In Kandahar, local radio stations were free to air music before the ban was announced Sunday.

"They say it was a reprieve that they gave the media," Majrooh said.

A Kandahar-based journalist said the ban reflects a growing power struggle within the Taliban, with extremist rank and file appearing to be gaining the upper hand.

"The Taliban foot soldiers want Islamic absolutism, their leaders want to expand their power," the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals. "That is what's going on."

The latest harassment of media comes amid a standoff between the Taliban and the international community over the Taliban's surprise move last week to keep girls above the sixth grade out of school.

Until recently, the Taliban's ministry of information and culture appeared to be in charge of the group's media policy, routinely assuring local journalists that they remain committed to press freedom. But in recent months, the Taliban intelligence service, dominated by the Haqqani Network, has emerged as a "tough new cop" policing the media, according to the Committee to Project Journalists.

"The Taliban has now imposed an unwritten, unannounced security regime on journalists operating across Afghanistan," the CPJ said, citing journalists and media executives.

The Afghan Independent Journalists Association said it has recorded 129 "acts of violence" against journalists over the past seven months, including 10 incidents during the past eight days. On Saturday, Sarwar Hashemi, a reporter for Salam Watandar, a national radio network, was detained while covering a women's protest in Kabul.

The IPI’s Brouillette said the detentions were "yet another sign of the alarming deterioration of press freedom in Afghanistan under Taliban rule."

"Despite making initial promises to respect press freedom, the Taliban have done the exact opposite," she said. "The regime has instead sought to control the press and to silence independent media through a mix of restrictive laws — including requirements regarding religious content and bans on foreign news and films — as well as through arbitrary arrests, detentions, assaults, and other forms of intimidation and violence."

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