Last month, the Taliban promised that journalists in Afghanistan would be free to continue their media activities “within the Sharia”. But since protests in Kabul gathered pace on September 7, large numbers of reporters and photographers have been arrested and some brutally beaten.
Two days ago Fahim Dashti, a well-known journalist turned spokesman for the resistance in Panjshir, was killed during fighting in the northeastern province. Resistance leader Ahmad Massoud called for a national uprising. Hundreds of residents of the Afghan capital then took to the streets again, waving the tricolour national flag and chanting slogans against Pakistan, which has been accused of backing the Taliban.
Videos from the protests show bloody confrontations between Taliban fighters and Afghan citizens. The sound of gunfire can be heard. Journalists from Noor TV and Kabul News, as well as a freelance photographer, were beaten while covering the scene. A Kabul News cameraman was also injured. Among those detained were camera operators for Tolo News and Ariana News, reporters for radio station Salam Watandar, reporters for news website Kilid reporters, and a team from Reuters.
Zafar Momand, a correspondent with Salam Watandar, told IranWire the Taliban had warned reporters that some of the protesters were "rioters" before the first shots were fired near the Zanbaq intersection. Several journalists took refuge in the nearby Kabul Star Hotel, which is surrounded on all sides by now-deserted embassies. When they came back out into the street, they were apprehended and beaten.
They told the Taliban they were members of the press, he said, but it was as if the mercenaries hadn’t heard them. "The Taliban forces tied our hands and took us to the car. We resisted, but we were forcibly taken away." It wasn’t until four hours after their arrest that a high-ranking official showed up to verify their identities and let them go.
Several other detained journalists spoke to IranWire on the condition of anonymity. Their names and addresses, they said, had been taken down by “Taliban intelligence”. Now they are newly afraid that the Taliban will threaten not just them but their families.
Official sources in Herat province told IranWire that during protests in that city, the Taliban also arrested against the Taliban and Pakistan, Taliban intelligence forces arrested another journalist called Morteza Samadi. His status was unclear at the time of writing.
With free and impartial journalism now under threat, accurate information is becoming harder to secure. But according to a statement by the Free Afghanistan Journalists Association, at least 14 local and foreign journalists were detained during the protests in Kabul.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also tweeted that more than a dozen local and foreign journalists had been arrested in the capital, adding: "These journalists covered the news of a large number of men and women protesting against Pakistan and for freedom. They were detained for hours. Some have been treated violently.
"The Taliban say they believe in the freedom of the media and respect it in practice, but arrest 12 to 14 journalists for a few hours. Our demand is what we have repeatedly emphasized: respect for media freedom in Afghanistan and the Taliban's adherence to what they said."
Earlier, RSF said it had established that of 700 female journalists working in Kabul it identified in a study last year, just 100 had so far returned to work. Of the 510 women who worked for eight major media groups, just 76 – of whom 39 are news reporters – had been able to continue since the Taliban takeover.
The day before the protests on September 6, at least two journalists in Balkh province were also reportedly beaten by Taliban forces while covering protests. And on September 8, five journalists from the Afghan news agency Eliaatroz were arrested while covering a women’s protest in Kabul. Two of them, Taqi Daryabi and Nematullah Naqdi, were severely beaten with cables and had to be taken to hospital after their release.
A Euronews producer covering the same protest was also temporily detained, beaten and had his wallet confiscated before being released more than three hours later. LA Times photojournalist Marcus Yam reported that Taliban fighters had tried to steal his camera, even telling him photographing women was forbidden in Islam.
Freedom of expression and the emergence of a flourishing, diverse professional media landscape was one of the greatest achievements of Afghan citizens over the past two decades. Now this vital part of society is again under critical threat. Many journalists have already fled and more are trying to get out of the country, fearing for their lives and those of their loved ones.
In mid-August, senior Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stressed in an interview with IranWire that the group was not opposed in principle to the free operation of the media, and even supported its continued activity. So far, it has proved a hollow claim.
This article was written by a citizen journalist under a pseudonym.