Afghan Media Watchdog Reports Rising Crackdown on the Press

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) says that the challenges faced by media outlets and journalists in Afghanistan continue to intensify under the Taliban.

The new AFJC report, covering the period from March 21 to November 17, 2023, exposes widespread disruptions to media operations across Afghanistan’s provinces and capital, Kabul. Severe restrictions on access to information have crippled media organizations’ ability to produce independent reports and engage in critical journalism. The Taliban’s tightening control over media content has compelled outlets to confine their coverage to approved narratives surrounding humanitarian events, aid efforts, and educational programs.

Amidst the Taliban’s stringent control over Afghanistan’s media landscape, journalists have exhibited remarkable resilience in the face of mounting challenges, says the report. Over half of the country’s media outlets have shuttered, forcing many journalists to flee for their safety. This exodus has led to a significant loss of employment, particularly for women journalists. The Taliban have also imposed gender-based restrictions on journalists such as mandatory facemasks for women on television. As a result, more than 80% of the country’s female journalists have been forced to quit their jobs.

Media organizations in Afghanistan have faced an unprecedented level of censorship and repression in the past two years. The Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture has imposed severe restrictions on media content, prohibiting the broadcast of entertainment programs and closely scrutinizing reporting on sensitive topics such as opium production, military operations, and protests. Journalists who dare to challenge these restrictions risk arrest, detention, and even torture.

The Taliban’s relentless crackdown on media freedom has resulted in the detention of dozens of journalists and media personnel over the past two years. Some of these individuals were reportedly subjected to torture, but most were eventually released after spending weeks or months in detention centers. In its report, AFJC has documented 75 incidents of violation of media freedom during the first six months of the ongoing solar year. These incidents included 33 arrests and 42 instances of threats against journalists and media personnel. The majority of arrests were carried out by the intelligence department, with various other agencies, notably the Ministry of Information and Culture also implicated in threatening journalists and media professionals.

A report by Afghanistan’s NAI, an organization that supports open media, shows the number of violation cases is much higher. According to NAI, nearly 110 incidents of violence against journalists have been recorded in Afghanistan in 2023. These include beatings, arrests, humiliation, insults, and other unlawful acts.

Afghan journalists have been forced to flee in huge numbers, seeking refuge in neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran. Many of these journalists now find themselves trapped in legal limbo, their visas expiring and their prospects of resettlement to a third country uncertain. These perilous circumstances have sparked fears of arrest and deportation back to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been a lifeline for Afghan journalists fleeing their country in the face of the Taliban’s repressive regime. Afghanistan remains one of the top countries for CPJ’s exile support and assistance to journalists, with a staggering 227 percent increase in overall exile support over the past three years.