WASHINGTON / BAMYAN, AFGHANISTAN - In an effort to find new ways of financing their insurgency, Taliban rebels have turned to local media for taxation and threatened news outlets in central Afghanistan with punitive measures if they refuse to give in to the militant group’s demands.
The Taliban has recently demanded that media outlets in central Ghazni province disclose their revenue so the group can impose taxes.
“The Taliban contacted us by telephone at the start of the spring and demanded 200,000 Afghanis [$4,000], saying it was the tax they are now imposing on media throughout the country,” Ahmad Farid Omari, managing editor of a local TV station, told VOA.
“We reported the threats to Afghan officials many times, but no action was taken. After several reminders and threats, we finally paid.” Omari added.
Reporters without Borders, or RSF, a global watchdog group overseeing media freedom, also reported Monday that Taliban insurgents have been threatening to bar media organizations across the province from operating if they refuse to pay the money.
Afghan officials, however, have downplayed the issue, saying the practice is not widespread and that the government has taken the necessary measures to ensure the security of media organizations.
Mohammad Arif Noori, the provincial spokesperson for Ghazni province, told VOA that the desperate Taliban are resorting to “extortion."
“There was some pressure on local media, but we took effective measures, and we will build on it more to ensure journalists’ safety and security in the province,” Noori said.
Taliban threats in the province have forced some reporters to quit their jobs.
“I shared the issue [Taliban threats] with my seniors in Kabul and with local government officials. But unfortunately, no actions were taken, and I had to leave my job, as my life was at risk,” Ibrahim Mahdawi, managing editor of Killid Radio network in Ghazni, told VOA.
According to RSF, the Taliban regularly sends reminders and threats to local media to pay their taxes.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, reportedly told RSF that the group received taxes from local media.
The media are not alone bearing the brunt of Taliban taxation in Ghazni. The group is reportedly collecting money from residents under a so-called “transit fee.”
Locals are fearful and cannot refuse payments. In some cases, the insurgents have killed locals who did not give in to their demands.
In December, after local residents of the Qara Bagh district of Ghazni province refused to pay the transit tax, the Taliban killed three civilians as punishment for disobedience.
“After Qara Bagh district residents did not pay the taxes the Taliban demanded, the insurgents removed three [civilians] from a car and killed them,” Sahib Khan Elham, Qara Bagh district governor, told VOA at the time. According to the official, the estimated 100,000 Qara Bagh district residents were asked to pay collectively 1,200,000 Afghanis ($17,000) in taxes, including property taxes.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, some business owners and journalists in the province told VOA that they have two options: pay taxes on a monthly or annual basis or risk their lives.
Ghazni is not the only place where the Taliban demanded that locals pay transit taxes. In January, the group reportedly asked locals in southern Nimruz and southwestern Farah provinces to pay them.
Afghan officials confirmed to VOA that the Taliban established a customs house in the Delaram district of southern Nimruz province and on Jan. 3, 2018, began collecting taxes.
Talking to VOA, several government officials in Kabul, however, accused the Taliban of using various means to finance its war efforts, including kidnapping, extortion, smuggling drugs, minerals and precious stones across the country. They also say the group’s recent efforts to target civilians indicate it is under military and financial pressure imposed on it through ongoing Afghan military operations.
Zafar Bamyani has contributed to this report from Bamyan province.