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Taliban Free 2 Afghan Journalists After International Outcry

FILE - Taliban fighters walk toward journalists during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2021.

The Taliban on Wednesday released two journalists working for a local news channel in Afghanistan two days after their arrests, which drew domestic and international denunciation of the Islamist group over its crackdown on dissent.

Sharif Hassanyar, the head of the private Ariana News TV, confirmed via a tweet the release of reporters Waris Hasrat and Aslam Hijab from Taliban custody.

The journalists were picked up Monday by Taliban forces while they were leaving their office for lunch in the capital, Kabul. The reason behind their arrest was not known, and Taliban authorities released them without accepting responsibility.

The United Nations and local and international rights groups had condemned the detention of Hasrat and Hijab, demanding their immediate release.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan acknowledged the release of the journalists, urging the Taliban to stop abductions and secure the release of several female activists. The women disappeared two weeks ago after attending a protest rally to demand more rights and denounce Taliban restrictions on women, including wearing an Islamic hijab while in public.

Critics say the Taliban’s return to power last August has undermined freedom of expression in Afghanistan.

The Islamist group has cracked down on human rights activists, forcefully dispersed protests against its regime and subjected several journalists to torture for covering demonstrations that were not first approved by authorities.

Last week, the Taliban blocked an Afghan media advocacy group from holding a press conference in Kabul, drawing international condemnation.

Emergence of independent media outlets was hailed as one of the major outcomes of the U.S.-led international involvement in Afghanistan during the past 20 years.

A survey jointly released in December by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association found that at least 40% of media outlets in Afghanistan have disappeared and more than 80% of female journalists have lost their jobs since the return of the Islamist Taliban to power.

More than 6,400 journalists and media employees have lost their jobs since August 15, when the Taliban seized power from the Western-backed Afghan government, according to the survey.