AFJC Expresses Concern Over Escalating Restrictions on Media Freedom in Afghanistan Ahead of World Press Freedom Day

AFJC Expresses Concern Over Escalating Restrictions on Media Freedom in Afghanistan Ahead of World Press Freedom Day

Afghan Journalists in Kabul,  Wakil Kohsar/AFP

May 2, 2024

Kabul - Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, the Afghanistan Journalists' Center (AFJC) expresses serious concerns about the increasing restrictions on media freedom and the ongoing widespread arrests of journalists in Afghanistan, cautioning against the implications of this troubling trend.

Today, on occasion of World Press Freedom Day, AFJC has released its findings on the state of media freedom in Afghanistan over the past year. These findings reveal a significant increase in restrictions on media freedom and the violation of journalists' rights compared to the previous year.

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 in August 2021. These directives encompass a wide array of regulations concerning the media, such as forbidding women from working in national radio and television, prohibiting coverage of demonstrations and civil protests, imposing restrictions on the preparation and publication of news and other content, prohibiting the publication of music, limiting women's involvement in media activities including interviewing men or being involved in dramas and entertainment programs, banning interviews with opponents and critics of the Taliban, blocking the airing of foreign radio and TV programs on domestic media, restricting the publication of political, security and social advertisements without Taliban approval, prohibiting criticism of Taliban officials, and prohibiting collaboration with "exiled" media outlets.

A concerning development observed since May 2023 is the delegation of authority to issue directives beyond the Taliban leader in Kandahar or leadership in Kabul. Powerful officials in certain provinces have begun imposing their own media regulations, leading to additional restrictions such as banning women's voices in media in Helmand province, prohibiting photography and filming in official and unofficial meetings involving local officials in Kandahar province, and a ban on girls' phone calls to media outlets in Khost province.

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. Although the Taliban authorities do not explicitly state the consequences for non-compliance with these directives, our findings suggest that journalists or media outlets who defy these rules face threats, imprisonment, or punitive measures, including temporary or permanent bans on their operations.

In the last 12 months, AFJC has documented a total of 136 incidents of violations against media freedom and journalists in Afghanistan. This includes 72 cases of threats and 64 incidents 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.

One positive development is that during this period, no journalists were physically harmed or killed, unlike the previous year when one journalist died and many others were injured. However, there has been a rise in interference in media affairs by the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) and the Ministry of Virtue and Vice. Journalists are being summoned, interrogated, and even arrested for not following media directives, with the Media Complaints and Violations Commission often being used as a tool to suppress media freedom.

In the AFJC's findings on the state of media freedom in the last 12 months, increasing pressure on the media and journalists has been noted through intensified restrictions on access to information, pre- and post-publication monitoring of the media and the activities of journalists on social media, as well as increasing economic pressure.

In this regard, Taliban officials seldom grant interviews to the media, and the official spokespersons are not readily available to all journalists or may outright refuse to answer probing questions. Journalists are also restricted from using independent sources or alternative narratives that do not align with the Taliban's views. Additionally, their online presence must adhere to the strict guidelines set by the Taliban government.

Furthermore, AFJC findings reveal that national radio and television channels, as well as the state-run Bakhtar News Agency, receive preferential treatment in terms of coverage of official events. Private media outlets, particularly in the provinces, are often left out of invitations to these events or are provided with official newsletters and news information after the fact. Additionally, pressure on private media has also been exerted through economic means, especially with the unprecedented increase in taxes and associated costs of license renewal. 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.

Therefore, AFJC strongly urges the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to respect the freedom of the media and uphold the rights of journalists to work independently and without fear of reprisal. The ongoing restrictions and violations against media freedom not only hinder the flow of information but also have negative consequences on the society and the future of the country. AFJC calls on the Taliban to adhere to the principles outlined in the Media Law and the Access to Information law, ensuring that journalists can carry out their work without fear of censorship or persecution.