The Taliban's 17 Directives on Freedom of Media and Access to Information

 September 28, 2023

Kabul - Despite Afghanistan's recognition of the right to access information with the passage of the information access law in 2019 under the Republic government, there are growing concerns about its disregard. Since the fall of the republic in August 2021, the Taliban has issued 17 directives that contradict former media laws and propose amendments to Media Law and Access to Information. These directives, although not issued through standard legal procedures, form the foundation of the Taliban government's media and journalism policies.

 It is important to note that these directives have been issued and enforced despite repeated statements by officials from the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture and Taliban spokespersons, asserting implicit approval of the media laws (Media Law, Access to Information Law) that were in place during the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In one of the first official responses on this matter, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, during a meeting with journalists in Kabul on February 2, 2022, stated that they had thoroughly reviewed the media laws and identified no deficiencies. Mujahid added that these laws were currently in effect in Kabul and other provinces. On October 9, 2022, the deputy minister of information and culture for Publication Affairs, Hayatullah Mohajer Farahi announced during a meeting with reporters in Herat province that a plan to amend these laws had been prepared and sent to the leadership in Kandahar for approval. According to Farahi, these amendments would entail "slight changes" and would be made available to the media. However, parallel instructions have been issued and implemented, without specifying the consequences of non-compliance.

The directives issued by the Taliban leadership in Kandahar, spokespersons, or the ministries of information and culture, and Vice and Virtue, and General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI), as well as by local Taliban officials in Helmand, Kandahar and Khost provinces dictate the dos and don'ts journalists must follow. Non-compliance has led to threats, imprisonment, and punitive measures for media outlets, including temporary or permanent bans, as reported by the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC). AFJC has documented these directives.

AFJC has documented the directives as follows:

1: Prohibition of women working in national radio and television. 

Immediately after the fall of the governament and the Taliban's return to power, female employees of the national (state) radio and television were prohibited from working in these media outlets. Shabnam Dawran, an anchor at National TV in Kabul, shared on Twitter on August 1, 2021, that she was denied entry to the TV station, citing the changing system as the reason. Khadijah Amin, another host at National Radio and Television, also explained that she was barred from entering her office, and later, her colleagues faced similar restrictions.

2: Restriction on media coverage of demonstrations and civil protests. 

On September 8, 2021, the Taliban's Ministry of Interior officially banned demonstrations "under any name or title" and stated that any incidents resulting from violations would be the responsibility of the perpetrators. Verbal instructions were also conveyed to the media, stating that coverage of demonstrations and protests was forbidden. This ban was enforced immediately after the fall of the governament on August 15, 2021, leading to the intimidation and arrest of journalists who reported on such events.

3: Imposition of restrictions on access to information, news publication, and content production.

The directive was announced by Yusuf Ahmadi, the head of the media center of the Taliban government, on September 19, 2021. The directive consists of 11 articles that outline new regulations for journalists. These regulations are as follows:

  1. Journalists are prohibited from publishing topics that are in conflict with Islam.
  2. It is forbidden to insult national figures in media activities.
  3. Journalists must refrain from insulting national and personal privacy.
  4. The media and reporters are not allowed to distort news content.
  5. Journalists should adhere to journalistic principles in their writing.
  6. The media is expected to maintain balance in their publications.
  7. Caution should be exercised when publishing matters whose authenticity is not known or approved by the authorities.
  8. Publishing matters that have a negative impact on public opinion or undermine people's morale should be approached with caution.
  9. The media should remain neutral in publishing news and prioritize the dissemination of truth.
  10. The government media center aims to cooperate with the media and reporters by providing facilities for report preparation, and the media should coordinate their detailed reports with this department.
  11. A specific form has been prepared in the media office of the government to facilitate the preparation of reports in collaboration with journalists.

The inclusion of the first three articles from the country's mass media law in this directive is worth noting. However, the lack of clarity in defining issues that are in conflict with Islam, as well as insulting national privacy and character, may create undue pressure on journalists and the media.

4: Obligation for journalists and media to refer to the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.

On September 25, 2021, the Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Information and Culture of the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, sent a letter to select television channels in Kabul. This letter consists of six articles, with the first five reflecting the aforementioned directive. The sixth article emphasizes that the Taliban now exercises control over the entirety of Afghanistan and, consequently, should no longer be referred to as the "Taliban group," but as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" instead. This directive seeks to compel the media to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, despite the absence of international recognition thus far.

5: Prohibition of music publications in the media.

While no specific written instruction has been disseminated regarding this ban, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, confirmed the restriction on music in the media during a conversation with the Iranian daily Sharq on October 17, 2021. He cited the difficulty of adhering to "Islamic Sharia" as the basis for the prohibition. Furthermore, various departments, particularly those of information and culture, intelligence, and Vice and Virtue, have verbally directed media outlets in Kabul and the provinces to comply with this order and abstain from disobeying it.

6: Ban on women appearing in television dramas and prohibition of publishing films and serials.

The instruction issued by the Taliban Acting Minister of Vice and Virtue, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, addresses the prohibition the appearance of women in television dramas and the publication films and serials. Announcement was made during a press conference in Kabul on November, 2021.

According to this order, women are no longer allowed to participate in dramas. The guidelines of instruction include the following:

  1.  Films that go against the values of Islam and Afghan Sharia not be released.
  2. Domestic and foreign films that harm's social ethics and cultural should not be published.
  3. programs or shows that insult should not be aired.
  4. Shows that violate Sharia standards and human dignity should be avoided.
  5. Films and videos show the private parts of the body without covering should not published.
  6. Women on must observe Islamic hijab
  7. Plays with female actors not be published.
  8. The publication of serials (films) that show the faces actors who play the role prophets and companions of Prophet Mohammad((PBUH) strictly prohibited.

Regarding the of women in the media and their dress code while working, representatives of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue conducted a meeting with heads of several media outlets in Kabul on May 17, 2022. During this meeting, the ministry announced directives on how women dress when appearing on television, mandating the covering of their faces.

These instructions have had extensive consequences for television stations. Many stations have had to stop dubbing and airing foreign serials, including Indian or Turkish dramas, which were previously used to attract audiences. 

7: Gender segregation in media and prohibition of interviews between men and women.

Following the sixth guideline, media outlets have been instructed to establish separate roles for male and female reporters, ensuring that men and women do not work in mixed environments. In accordance with this directive, female reporters are prohibited from conducting interviews with men and vice versa.

A significant incident occurred on July 31, 2022, when the Nangarhar local administration shuttered a journalist training workshop attended by men and women organized by the Hamisha Bahar radio and television network in Jalalabad. The closure was attributed to the network's failure to adhere to the Taliban's order against mixing the education of men and women.

8: Prohibition of interviews with Taliban opponents and critics.

On November 22, 2021, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue issued a directive urging journalists to refrain from conducting interviews with dissidents (armed) and analysts who criticize the Taliban, as well as abstaining from inviting them to engage in televised debates. The heads of four private television channels in Kabul, namely TOLOnews, 1TV, Ariana, and Shamshad, were summoned to the Ministry of Information and Culture on December 16 and December 22, 2021. In these meetings, representatives from intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Vice and Virtue cautioned the media officials about the stringent enforcement of this order.

9: Prohibition of broadcasting international television programs in Afghanistan.

On March 27, 2022, the Taliban issued a directive mandating domestic television stations in Afghanistan to cease broadcasting international programs from foreign television stations, which includes Voice of America (Persian/Dari, Pashto), BBC (Persian/Dari, Pashto, Uzbek), and DW (Reconciliation program). These programs were previously rebroadcasted through various domestic channels such as Ariananews, Shamshad, and Arezu.

10: Coordination with MoCI for Commercial Announcements with Political, Security, and Social Content

Zabihullah Mujahid, deputy minister of the Ministry of Information and Culture of the "Islamic Emirate," sent a letter to the media on April 26, 2022, emphasizing the need for coordination with the media supervision department of the ministry prior to publishing commercial announcements that contain political, security, and social content.

11: Prohibition of criticizing the performance of Taliban officials by the media.

A new decree attributed to Mulla Hebatullah Akhundzadeh, the leader of the Taliban, was announced on July 21, 2022. This decree states that criticizing Taliban government officials is considered a violation of Sharia law and is strictly prohibited. The decree further emphasizes that baseless accusations and critiques of Taliban officials are not permissible, with punishment prescribed for those who disobey this order.

12: Prohibition of photography and video interviews (Helmand Province)

In February 2023, local Taliban officials in Helmand issued a direct order to journalists, specifically banning the conduct of video interviews with local officials and the preparation of video reports featuring citizens. Journalists were warned against defying this order, and after three weeks of implementation, the local officials in Helmand abandoned their initial stance.

13: Prohibition of collaboration with "Prohibited Media."

The Afghanistan Journalists Center has uncovered evidence suggesting that journalists who have been accused of collaborating with media outlets labeled as "prohibited" or exiled by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) have been subject to arrest and imprisonment. The Taliban has accused a number of media outlets established outside of Afghanistan since the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in August 2021 of publishing propaganda against the Taliban in their coverage of the situation in Afghanistan.

During a meeting in Kabul to commemorate the anniversary of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2023, Abdulsalam Hanafi, the administrative deputy to the Taliban's Prime Minister, stated that anyone acting against the national interests of Afghanistan under the guise of journalism would be arrested and prosecuted.

14: Ban on publication of women's voices (Helmand province)

The ban on the publication of women's voices was announced to the media in Helmand on July 23, 2023, and is currently enforced. The Department of Information and Culture in Helmand Province has admonished four radio stations, namely Sabawoon, Sokon, Zhagh, and Radio Lashkargah, not to transmit any programs featuring women's voices, explicitly forbidding both direct and indirect inclusion of women's voices in any broadcasts.

15: Avoid the use of foreign terms and expressions in all forms of media

Mulla Khairullah Khairkhah, the Acting Minister of Information and Culture of the Taliban, issued a directive on December 9, 2023 urging the media to refrain from using "foreign terms" in order to protect the country's "national identity." The letter also emphasized the importance of preserving religious, moral, and social values, requesting radio and television stations to broadcast the five calls to prayer and respect Islamic occasions, including Ramadan. AFJC has obtained a copy of this letter, which highlights the importance of stability, preservation, and promotion of national and official languages (Persian/Dari, Pashto), as well as media activities in accordance with the country's Mass Media law.

In this letter, Khairullah Khairkhah emphasized that national and official languages (Persian/Dari, Pashto) are a sign of the national identity of any country. He stressed the necessity of preserving language and culture for the survival and stability of any nation. He stated: "The Ministry of Information and Culture, for the purpose of survival, durability, enrichment, development and safe protection of the national and official languages, hopes that all the country's media in their programs, interviews, news, comments and writings, avoid the terms, words and expressions of other languages. They should consider the principles, rules, and grammar of their national and official languages so that the languages of the country remain immune from the interference, influence, and impact of foreign languages."

16: Prohibition on Photography and Filming of Local Officials in Kandahar Province

The Taliban acting governor of Kandahar issued a directive on February 18, 2024, prohibiting photography and filming in official and unofficial meetings involving local officials. AFJC has obtained a copy of the order signed by the Taliban acting governor, Molla Shirin Akhund, which instructs local and military officials in Kandahar to refrain from allowing photography and filming in their gatherings, urging them to only publish work reports in written or audio form. Journalists in Kandahar have reported that this directive has already led to difficulties in conducting interviews with local officials.

Molla Shirin Akhund, a close associate of Taliban leader Molla Hebatullah Akhundzada, was appointed as the acting governor of Kandahar province on May 4, 2023.

17: Ban on Girls' Phone Calls to Media Outlets in Khost province

The Taliban Police in Southeast Khost Province issued a ban on girls making phone calls to radios and televisions in the province. Media officials have been warned that they will face summoning and prosecution if they allow girls to participate in phone calls to media outlets.

AFJC has obtained a copy of an official letter dated February 24, signed by Abdul Rasheed Omari, the Taliban police chief in Khost province. The letter states: "Some private radio stations in Khost are promoting moral corruption, such as broadcasting school lessons or social programs involving many girls." The letter adds that "girls are engaging in illegal phone calls with the presenters of these programs during official and unofficial hours, leading to moral corruption in society and violating Islamic values."

The Taliban police chief in Khost has asked the Department of Information and Culture of the province to convey this message to the media. The letter concluded by warning that if local media continue to air programs involving girls, their officials will face summoning and prosecution.

The investigation and analysis conducted by the AFJC into these instructions and the seriousness with which the Taliban government is implementing them suggest that the upcoming amendments to the media laws, rumored to be approved soon, may involve more substantial changes than previously indicated. The article has been updated on February 25, 2024.