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Media Watchdog Reports Rise in Media Restrictions and Violations in Afghanistan

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – As World Press Freedom Day approaches, the Afghanistan Journalist Center (AFJC) expresses concerns about the escalating restrictions on media freedom and the ongoing widespread arrests of journalists in Afghanistan.

In a report released on Thursday, May 2, AFJC highlighted a significant increase in restrictions on media freedom and the violation of journalists’ rights compared to the previous year, while also warning about the implications of this troubling trend.

Over the past year, the media watchdog has documented a total of 136 incidents of violations against media freedom and journalists in Afghanistan. These include 72 instances of threats and 64 cases of journalists being arrested.

“While this number is lower than the 213 incidents reported between May 2022 and May 2023, it is still concerning to see that restrictions on media freedom continue to persist and even increase.”

AFJC notes that while no journalists were physically harmed or killed during this reporting year, there has been a notable increase in interference in media affairs by Taliban authorities, particularly the regime’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) and the Ministry of Virtue and Vice.

Freedom of the press and expression were among the many achievements of the US-backed republican government in Afghanistan over the last two decades. However, since the Taliban took over in August 2021, these hard-won gains have slowly been washed away, leaving the future of the free press crumbling.

Upon their return to power, the Taliban pledged to uphold freedom of the press; however, in practice, the regime has imposed extensive restrictions on media activities and journalists, often resorting to arrests, imprisonment, and instances of torture.

The Taliban’s imposition of media restrictions and pressure on journalists and media workers has resulted in the closure of over half of the country’s media outlets, TV stations, and radio stations.

According to AFJC, the root cause of these restrictions and violations can be traced back to at least 17 media directives issued by the Taliban since their return to power. These directives, AFJC notes, include forbidding women from working in state media, prohibiting coverage of protests, imposing restrictions on news coverage, and prohibiting cooperation with exiled media outlets.

“The AFJC’s findings have shown that these directives, while often ambiguous, have had a detrimental impact on journalists’ work, content production, and media programs.”

Furthermore, the media watchdog says that Taliban authorities rarely grant interviews to the media, and their spokespersons are not readily available to journalists or often decline to answer probing questions.

The AFJC findings also indicate that the Taliban have exerted economic pressure on private media outlets through unprecedented increases in taxes and licensing fees.

“While the majority of media outlets are facing a sharp decrease in commercial advertisements, which are their main source of income, and are struggling to continue their activities and avoid closure, owners who have not renewed their licenses have been instructed to cancel or suspend their operations,” the report said.  

The media watchdog warns of the dire consequences of the media conditions in Afghanistan, emphasizing the need for Taliban authorities to respect the freedom of the media and uphold the rights of journalists to work independently and without fear of reprisal.