Over 80% of female journalists in Afghanistan forced to stop working, RSF reports

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report on Thursday that shed light on the crackdown on media and journalism in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. The report found that more than 80% of female journalists in Afghanistan have been forced to leave their jobs.

On the eve of the second anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, RSF stated that more than two-thirds of the country’s 12,000 journalists, both male and female, have abandoned the profession since then.

RSF interviewed many journalists inside and outside Afghanistan for the report. One female journalist who still works for a TV channel in Kabul told RSF, “It gets worse every day… I’ve repeatedly been denied the right to cover events simply because I am a woman.”

The journalist added that she has to wear a mask whenever she appears on camera and that women journalists cannot participate in talk shows with men or ask questions. As a result, many women journalists have been forced to abandon their careers.

RSF also quoted the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) as saying that the number of media outlets in Afghanistan has decreased significantly since the Taliban takeover. Of the 150 TV channels that existed before the takeover, fewer than 70 remain. Of the 307 radio stations, only 170 are still broadcasting. The number of news agencies has gone from 31 to 18.

Zarif Karimi, the director of NAI-Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, told RSF that if the current situation continues, many more media organizations will be forced to close their doors. As a result, Afghanistan’s journalists are currently experiencing an identity crisis.

A Kabul-based TV journalist who asked not to be identified told RSF that the challenges facing journalists in Afghanistan are “huge.” He said that journalists are “terrified, crushed and despondent” as a result of the arrests and harassment they have faced. He also said that many journalists have self-censored their work in order to avoid further retaliation from the Taliban.

Faced with the relentless harassment of media personnel within Afghanistan, many journalists have had to flee the country. Zaki Daryabi, the founder of Etilaatroz and KabulNow, told RSF that he and his team were forced to flee Afghanistan in October 2021 after some of his colleagues were tortured by the Taliban.

“We wanted to continue working but it soon proved far too dangerous and some colleagues were tortured by the Taliban,” he said.

“It was in the United States that Zaki Daryabi was finally able to reassemble part of the Etilaatroz team that had been scattered across the globe, in order to relaunch his newspaper and the online newspaper KabulNow. These two media outlets now have ten employees based in the US state of Maryland and other 30 or so journalists who are correspondents within Afghanistan.” Part of the report reads.

Zahra Nader, the Editor-in-Chief of Zan Times, an Afghanistan-origin news outlet based in Canada, told RSF, “The Taliban wanted to erase women from society and from the media in particular, we said we could not let this happen. It was a decision that really came from our hearts. We needed to keep the world informed about what is happening.”

According to the report, RSF has provided financial and legal assistance to many Afghan journalists who have been forced to flee the country. The organization has also helped to facilitate the resettlement of tens of Afghan journalists in third countries.

RSF’s South Asia bureau condemned the Taliban’s crackdown on the media in Afghanistan, calling it “sickening.” However, the bureau praised the “incredible resilience” of journalists inside and outside of Afghanistan who are “battling daily to keep the flame of a free press alive.”

Freedom of press and expression were among the many achievements of the last two decades when Afghanistan was exercising a fledgling democracy backed by the US and the international community.

Since returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban has imposed draconian restrictions on the media and freedom of expression. For women, these restrictions extend to their clothing, which must be fully covered, and their segregation from male colleagues. Taliban officials also refuse to grant interviews to female journalists.