Taliban release three Afghan journalists after media crackdown

TOLO TV staffers were arrested after the channel broadcast a report on the Taliban’s ban on foreign drama series.

Tolo News
Three TOLOnews journalists were detained by the Taliban government on Thursday [File: Ahmad Masood/Reuters]

The Taliban have released three employees of Afghanistan’s largest television station after detaining them for reporting that the country’s new rules were cracking down on media freedoms.

The report on TOLOnews said that the Taliban had banned all broadcasts of foreign drama series, a channel executive said.

Three staffers from TOLOnews were taken from the station in Kabul on Thursday evening and arrested, according to Khpalwak Sapai, the channel’s head of news, who was one of the arrested. Sapai later said that he and Nafay Khaleeq, the station’s legal adviser, were released within hours, later on Thursday.

Bahram Aman, a news anchor, was kept in custody overnight and released on Friday evening, the station said.

“After almost 24 hours I have been released from prison. I will always be the voice of the people,” Aman wrote on his Facebook page.

“Our job is to deliver information to the people,” said Sapai in a statement issued by the network after Aman’s release.

“For this reason we always suggest that any issue related to the media or TOLOnews be shared through the Ministry of Information and Culture.”

Moby Group, the media company that owns TOLOnews, said the detentions were the result of the station reporting “about the banning of … foreign drama series” – a decision made by the Taliban-appointed Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Following the arrests, the Taliban’s secret service warned in a statement that it would not allow anyone to violate “Islamic principles”, nor threaten the “mental and psychological security” of the Afghan people.

“Some media outlets were reporting cases that offended the religious sentiments of the community and threatened our national security,” the statement said. “In addition, the evil and vicious elements were receiving their propaganda material against the state from the contents of these media.”

“Ever increasing restrictions”

The United Nations and the Committee to Protect Journalists decried the arrests and demanded the Taliban stop harassing Afghan journalists and stifling free expression through threats, arrests, and intimidation.

“The Taliban must immediately … stop detaining and intimidating members of the Afghanistan press corps,” a statement from CPJ said.

The UN mission in Afghanistan expressed “its deep concern about the detentions of journalists and the ever increasing restrictions being placed on media in Afghanistan.”

The mission, known as UNAMA, said on Twitter: “Time for the Taliban to stop gagging & banning. Time for a constructive dialogue with the Afghan media community.”

“We will not allow anyone to trample our Islamic and national values … that threaten the security of our people and our nation,” the Taliban’s intelligence agency said in a statement soon after Aman was released.

As part of the “religious guidelines” announced by the Taliban last November, female journalists have also been encouraged to follow a dress code deemed appropriate by the Taliban. Such restrictions, as well as tightening control on news reporting, has been done to preserve the “national interest”, according to the group.

The Taliban has been accused of backing down on its pledge to protect women’s rights and media freedoms.

Since sweeping back to power in August, the Taliban has sent erratic signals about what the media landscape will look like under its rule, with international journalists sometimes welcomed, and Afghan media often attacked.

The ranks of journalists in Afghanistan thinned dramatically during the chaotic days of the United States withdrawal last August, when tens of thousands of Afghans fled or were evacuated by foreign governments and organisations. Many who stayed, and even those who have not, have had run-ins with the Taliban, and say they are afraid of what tomorrow might bring.

The majority of TOLOnews’s reporters and producers are women. Sapai, the station’s executive, said he had made a special effort to recruit and train Afghan women journalists.

In December, Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalist Association said that 231 out of 543 media outlets had closed, while more than 6,400 journalists had lost their jobs since the Taliban took control of the government. The outlets closed for lack of funds, or because journalists had left the country, according to the report.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies