Bulent Kilic / AFP via Getty Images
ISLAMABAD – Nightmares are easy and often for Afghan journalist Taqi Daryabi.
When they do, the 22-year-old reporter from the Afghan newspaper Etilaatroz is instantly brought back to a damp room in a Taliban-run police station, where a group of veterans brutally beat him and his colleague Nematullah Naqdi last month for covering a women’s protest in Kabul.
“They all started beating me with whatever they had in their hands – with whips, batons, with rubber, with wood,” said Daryabi, who is still in the hospital treating his lacerations. “With whatever torture tool they had, they beat me until I passed out.”
Naqdi, his colleague, partially lost his sight due to the beatings he suffered that day.
Bernat Armangue / AP
About 800 kilometers away, in the western town of Herat, 26-year-old journalist Atefa does not haunt the past. It is the fear of the future.
Atefa, who wishes to use only her first name to protect her safety, wrote critically about the attitudes and treatment of women by the Taliban for various Afghan news outlets. Now she is hiding.
Since the group took over Herat in mid-August, her neighbors have told her the Taliban are looking for her. In recent weeks, she has received text messages from unknown numbers, containing gruesome video clips. She presumes they are from the Taliban, warning her of what is to come.
“A recent video I received shows the Taliban torturing a man to death,” she said. “I am ready to be shot, but I don’t want to fall into the hands of the Taliban. I don’t want to be cut to pieces.”
There is a gap between what Taliban officials say and what their infantrymen do
Reporting has long been a dangerous and even deadly activity for Afghan journalists. They have been the target of attacks and kidnappings, some of which have been claimed by the Taliban. Now, with the Taliban in power, the mix of threats, detentions and vague media rules, along with a shattered economy, has stunted the progress of the Afghan media.
More than 150 media companies and radio stations across the country have closed their doors, according to TOLO News, Afghanistan’s largest news outlet. Hundreds of Afghan journalists have fled the country since Taliban forces took control of Kabul in August.
Those who stayed, like Daryabi and Atefa, say they don’t know where the Taliban red lines are. Many have stopped working for fear of reprisals, violent assaults and inexplicable detentions.
“The Taliban do not have complete control over how their people operate,” said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
He has followed the cases of Afghan journalists and said there appears to be a disconnect between the Taliban leadership, who publicly insist they support freedom of the press, and its infantry who inflict harsh punishments.
Taliban leaders argue that those who now patrol the streets have spent the past 20 years fighting, without monitoring or engaging with civil society. Some lower-level Taliban admit they are struggling to adjust to their new life and are missing out on the battle.
Taliban officials use it to justify media restrictions.
“We have said many times that we believe in free speech in the media,” Taliban spokesman Inamullah Samangani told NPR. “Of course, because the situation is not yet normal and is not totally under control, we want to prevent some irregular and messy scenarios and ensure the safety and security of journalists … in places like military centers or military centers. places that are still contested and combative and not yet fully under our control – we advise against reporting from there. ”
Adding to the confusion, Samangani denies the existence of 11 tough press rules that were announced by Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban’s acting director of the government’s Information and Media Center, at a conference. press September 19.
For now, Samangani specifies two general prohibitions: “There are two problems that we will not tolerate – when our religious rights are attacked, and second, when there is an obvious program against our national interest,” he said. . “Apart from these two elements, I told you that we are open to criticism and that we can be held responsible. But the problem is that the regime is not yet well formed. It is in the process of being formed and we believe that all institutions should start their business first, and this will allow better cooperation and better dissemination of information. This is when we will be ready to have lengthy investigative reports and we will cooperate with them.
Asked about the violent detention of Daryabi and his colleague, Samangani expresses regret but deflects the blame.
“We believe that journalists have become the victims of an illegal protest. The protest was not organized in cooperation with the government and the legal systems,” he said. “Unfortunately, the mujahedin who were there for security were unaware and were not ready to deal with this.”
Taliban unlikely to promote press freedom
Even the most ardent critics of the US military engagement in Afghanistan see the flourishing of the Afghan media as one of the country’s greatest achievements over the past 20 years. Few could have imagined that televisions – largely banned during the Taliban regime in the 1990s – or radios, which at the time only broadcast Islamic propaganda and programs, would ultimately offer a dynamic range of information, programs and entertainment. In that year, the country had around 70 television stations, more than 170 FM radio stations and 175 newspapers.
Butler fears Afghanistan is moving towards a system in which the Taliban controls what journalists write. “Journalists who step over a line are going to be in trouble one way or another,” he warns.
As foreign correspondents are called upon to cover other crises and conflicts, the world’s attention will inevitably shift away from Afghanistan. This is when the history of Afghanistan will fall squarely on the shoulders of Afghan journalists – and it is then, says Butler, that the Taliban’s true positions on a free press will become clear. .
“You have to ask yourself if this government is prepared to accept the criticism, you know, the harsh criticism that a free press would normally do?” Said Butler. “I think it’s unlikely.”
Fazelminallah Qazizai reported from Kabul.