AFJC Releases 2023 Annual Report on Media Freedom in Afghanistan

AFJC Releases 2023 Annual Report on Media Freedom in Afghanistan

December 29, 2023

Kabul- The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) released its report today, detailing the condition of journalists and media in Afghanistan in 2023. According to the report, journalists and media professionals in Afghanistan encountered significant obstacles and infringements on their basic rights and legal protections throughout the year, severely limiting their freedom and capacity to function effectively.

These restrictions and violations stem from at least 14 media directives, some of which were issued in 2023. These guidelines encompass various aspects of the media, including the prohibition of women's work in national radio and television, the ban on covering demonstrations and protests, restrictions on news preparation and publication, the obligation to refer to the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, the ban on music publication, and mandates for female journalists to cover their faces and limits on women's involvement in dramas and entertainment programs. The guidelines also enforce gender segregation within the media, prohibiting women from interviewing men and vice versa. Additionally, media is prohibited from interviewing Taliban opponents and critics, broadcasting international radio and television programs, publishing political, security, and social advertisements without coordination with authorities, criticizing Taliban officials, broadcasting women's voices on media channels in Helmand, and collaborating with "banned media." These directives have been strictly enforced over the past year.

The report highlights that the wide-ranging and ambiguous nature of these guidelines has had a detrimental effect on media production and content. Taliban officials seldom grant interviews to journalists, and spokespersons are not readily available to answer substantive questions or may outright refuse.

While the consequences of non-compliance with these guidelines are not explicitly stated in the media directives, the findings of AFJC reveal that journalists who have disregarded them have faced threats, imprisonment, or punitive measures such as temporary or permanent termination of media operations.

The annual report documents at least 168 instances of violations of journalists' rights in 2023, including one journalist death, 19 injuries, 87 threats, and 61 arrests. Though these numbers reflect a decrease compared to the 260 recorded incidents in 2022, the nature and structure of the violations remain unchanged. The intensified pressure on media and journalists through the implementation of these guidelines has resulted in reduced freedom, compromised independence, increased self-censorship, and a shift in media coverage towards humanitarian and educational events.

Of the total events recorded in 2023, eight media bans were imposed—five of which were temporary for weeks, while three outlets, including two news websites and a radio station, remain prohibited from operating.

Furthermore, within the last year, at least four trials have been held for media managers and journalists in the country. AFJC reports that these courts were held in absentia, addressing charges against managers of ten private media outlets and three employees of National Radio and Television. Two private radio station managers faced in-person trials, while others faced prosecution related to their media work. Among those convicted, two media outlet managers have been sentenced to one year in prison and are currently serving their sentences.

The findings of the report indicate that the Taliban's intelligence department and Ministry of of Vice and Virtue were directly and indirectly responsible for suppressing media and freedom of expression in 2023 through the arrest, threats, and intimidation of journalists, while making extensive efforts to enforce the media directives with severity. Despite the Ministry of Information and Culture's efforts to address complaints and violations through its specialized commission, the power and pressure exerted by intelligence representatives have impeded the commission's ability to effect tangible improvements, resulting in ongoing rights violations against journalists and media.

Expressing deep concern over the continued serious violations of journalists' and media rights in the country, AFJC urges the Taliban government to rescind the extra-legal media guidelines and instead implement the Media Law and the Law on Access to Information, which are considered applicable, in order to foster a climate of free media activity. AFJC calls on the government to facilitate and support these laws.

To access the full text of the annual report, please visit this link.