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Afghanistan Journalists in Exile Urges Pakistan to Halt Deportation of Journalists, Citing Taliban Retaliation

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Afghanistan’s journalists in exile, in Europe and North America, have urged the Pakistani government to halt the deportation of Afghan journalists and media workers residing in Pakistan, citing concerns about potential retaliation from the Taliban. 

In an open letter, a copy of which was sent to KabulNow on Sunday, March 24, they also appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to prevent the deportation of Afghan journalists and media workers from Pakistan.

In the letter, Afghanistan journalists in exile mentioned that the Pakistani government has informed all Afghan refugees in the country that they must leave by April 15 or they will face deportation.

In recent decades, millions of Afghan citizens have sought refuge in Pakistan, fleeing from numerous violent conflicts. An estimated 600,000 have fled since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021.

While exact figures regarding the number of journalists and media workers residing in Pakistan are unavailable, many fled Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover, fearing reprisals. Over the past two years, some have relocated to Western countries, but a substantial number remain in neighboring countries, facing unemployment and an uncertain future.

Last October, the Pakistan caretaker government announced the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP), asking all undocumented immigrants to leave the country or face deportation, citing counterterrorism efforts.

Out of the over four million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, the Pakistani government estimates that 1.7 million are undocumented.

Since then, as reported by the UN, over half a million immigrants, predominantly women and children, have been deported to the impoverished, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, the newly elected Pakistani government declared its intention to initiate the second phase of refugee expulsions from the country within a month. This move comes amid escalating tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban, particularly regarding the Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group that has recently intensified its terrorist activities in the country. Islamabad claims that the Taliban in Afghanistan are providing shelter and support to the militant group for cross-border attacks.

As reported by Pakistani media, in this phase, the country has asked nearly 700,000 Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) holders to voluntarily return to Afghanistan. Otherwise, they may face detention and deportation.

In 2017 and 2018, the Pakistani government issued ACC cards to approximately 690,000 Afghan refugees, granting them legal migrant status in the country.

While announcing the second phase of deportation, the Pakistani Interior Minister, Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi, emphasized, “Any Afghan or anyone living illegally in Pakistan must be expelled from Pakistan. This does not mean they cannot return to Pakistan, but they can return to this country with legal documentation and visas.”

Afghanistan journalists in exile say that the deportation of Afghan journalists and media workers from Pakistan constitutes a blatant violation of their human rights and represents a significant injustice to the Afghan media community.

The signatories of the letter stressed that the journalists facing expulsion from Pakistan would be subjected to persecution and retaliation by the Taliban, putting their lives in grave danger upon returning to Afghanistan.

“Journalists who were deported from Pakistan in the first phase of the expulsion plan are currently either arrested by the Taliban or living in undisclosed locations, living in fear of arrest and torture,” part of the letter reads. 

Upon retaking power in August 2021, the Taliban promised to respect freedom of the press. However, the regime has, in reality, imposed significant restrictions on media operations and journalists, often resorting to arrests, imprisonment, torture, and instances of murder.

The Afghanistan Journalist Center (AFJC), an Afghan media watchdog, has recorded 168 instances of journalist rights violations in the country in 2023, with 61 of them constituting arrests of journalists and media personnel.

In the latest incident yesterday, March 24, local sources in northern Kunduz province told KabulNow that Taliban intelligence agents had detained a local journalist and YouTuber named Obaidullah Ahmadi in the province.

Thus far, the reason for his detention remains unclear. However, local sources added that the Taliban had also detained three other local journalists, but they were released after a few hours of detention.