Media freedom defenders have called on Afghanistan's Taliban authorities to immediately release at least nine journalists currently in prison for their work and stop their "brutal" crackdown on national press members.
Operatives of the Taliban's spy agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence, or GDI, arrested five journalists during this week’s raids on offices of independent radio and television news networks in eastern and northern parts of the country, accusing them of reporting for self-exiled Afghan news outlets.
The most recent GDI raids took place Thursday in eastern Jalalabad and in northeastern Kunduz province, targeting a radio station and a TV channel.
The Afghanistan Journalists Center, an independent media freedom monitor, denounced the arrests on X, formerly known as Twitter, as a "serious violation of journalists’ rights” and demanded the Taliban "release the nine journalists currently in prison."
Taliban government officials do not publicly discuss the GDI's operations and reject allegations they are stifling media freedom in the country.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, said Friday that the latest detentions just before the second anniversary of the Taliban's return to power showed they are “determined to continue their brutal crackdown on the media."
Beh Lih Yi, CPJ's Asia program coordinator, demanded the Taliban "immediately and unconditionally" release the journalists and "stop muzzling reporting, whether it is conducted for local media or the exiled press."
The U.S.-based watchdog group noted that since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, the country's media have been in crisis, with arrests, raids on offices and beatings.
"The Taliban's General Directorate of Intelligence has emerged as a key threat to journalists in the country. Some journalists who fled the country have established media outlets to continue reporting on Afghanistan in exile," the CPJ said.
Reporters Without Borders, an international media freedom advocacy group known by its French acronym RSF, released a report this week documenting efforts by Afghan male and female journalists, within the country and abroad, to keep journalism alive despite the Taliban's crackdown.
"The media have been decimated in the past two years," the RSF noted in its report. It said that more than half of the 547 media outlets that were registered in 2021 have since disappeared.
Of the 150 Afghan TV channels, fewer than 70 remain, and only 170 radio stations of the 307 are still broadcasting, while the number of news agencies has declined to 18 from 31.
The RSF report finds that over 80% of women journalists have had to stop working since the hardline Taliban seized power and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, to govern the conflict-torn South Asian nation.
"And of the roughly 12,000 journalists – male and female – that Afghanistan had in 2021, more than two-thirds have abandoned the profession."
The RSF quoted journalists working in Afghanistan, saying they face "huge" challenges.
A female TV reporter in Kabul, the Afghan capital, told the media watchdog that the situation is getting worse daily. "I have repeatedly been denied the right to cover events simply because I am a woman," she said, requesting anonymity.
A Kabul-based male TV journalist said that his colleagues who reported objectively and accurately were imprisoned, forced to quit their jobs or had to flee Afghanistan.
"Every journalist is now terrified, crushed, and despondent as a result of all the arrests and the harassment to which we have been subjected, and therefore all self-censor their work," the journalist told RSF. He also asked not to be identified, fearing retaliation by the Taliban.