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Asia

Afghan journalists defy Taliban threats

Reporting in Afghanistan has never been easy, but media freedom in the country has come under increased pressure as the Taliban have issued warnings against major TV networks. How are the journalists responding to it?

Despite their recent retreat from the briefly captured Afghan city of Kunduz, the Taliban have opened war fronts in other parts of northern Afghanistan, which have never been their strongholds. They have effectively taken the battle to the provinces of Takhar, Baghlan and Badakhshan, where the insurgents reportedly took over some areas, including one close to Fayzabad, where the German military once had a base.

Rights groups claim that during their brief control of Kunduz, the Taliban committed grave human rights abuses, including the harassment of activists and journalists. On Monday, October 12, the extremists declared two of the country's biggest television networks - Tolo TV and 1TV - "military targets." Both of these channels are privately run and are often critical of the Taliban and other extremist groups.

Taliban fighter talks with residents at the main square, a day after insurgents took control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz September 29, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The Taliban committed human rights abuses during their brief control of Kunduz, say rights groups

"The Taliban from now on does not recognize Tolo and 1TV as media outlets but designates them as military targets due to their disrespectful and hostile actions," the militants said in a statement.

Analysts say there is a particular reason behind the Taliban's warnings. The two channels ran reports about the Islamists' alleged raping of women in a Kunduz hostel after they captured the city.

"No employee, anchor, office, news team and reporter of these TV channels hold any immunity," the Taliban warned, urging the Afghan people to "strongly boycott" the two channels.

Tolo TV's head Saad Mohseni, however, said his network would continue to report on Taliban's atrocities. "Proud to say that our people will always report without bias and fear," Mohseni wrote on Twitter. "We will not be intimidated by any group."

Journalists refuse to bow to pressure

But Sediqullah Tawhidi, head of Nai Media Watch, warned that the Taliban threats should be taken more seriously than ever. "The Taliban have threatened journalists in the past, but in those cases the warnings came from a spokesman or commander. This time, however, the statement came from the group's military commission," Tawhidi told DW, adding the militant group is seeking to intimidate all Afghan journalists and media houses.

"We are concerned that the Taliban might carry out a terrorist attack on the two TV stations. But we also think that the warning is not only against 1TV and Tolo TV but against all media outlets in Afghanistan. It is an attack on freedom of speech," said the media expert.

"It is the government's job to ensure the safety of journalists," he stressed.

International condemnation

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also condemned the Taliban for threatening Afghan journalists. "We believe the Afghan people expect the Afghan media not to bow to such threats and to continue their mission of informing people based on journalism ethics," the global journalists' body said in a statement.

"The IFJ strongly condemns the threats by the Taliban to destroy media facilities and eliminate journalists of media houses in Afghanistan. This is an outrageous reaction by the Taliban that dishonors press freedom and human rights. While expressing our solidarity with the media in Afghanistan, the IFJ urges the Afghanistan government to provide security to media houses and journalists."

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also expressed serious concern at recent statements from the Taliban and urged "all parties to the conflict to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression."

Three days after fall of Kunduz city to the control of Taliban, Hundreds of Afghans protest against Terror and Taliban in Kabu (Photo: H.Sirat-DW)

Afghan activists criticize Presdient Ashraf Ghani's government for not protecting civil society

Threats from all sides

Rights groups, however, equally blame the Afghan government for not providing enough security to journalists. They also say Afghan media face threats from politicians and state officials.

The media in Afghanistan have grown exponentially since 2002 and are playing an increasingly important public role by interviewing and criticizing politicians and public officials. The problem is that many Afghan officials do not embrace the idea that they are accountable to the general public.

"Government figures realize the importance of the media and seek to control it through intimidation, misuse of the laws, and violence," Patricia Gossman, a senior HRW researcher on Afghanistan, told DW.

"Journalists come under suspicion from all sides," journalist Zerak Zaheen said. "Because you are a journalist, you are suspected of being a liar or a spy."

Fellow DW journalist Sayed Abdullah Nizami added: "It is not only the Taliban that terrorize us. Also the government puts journalists under pressure. Then there are the mafia and the warlords."

Additional reporting by Gabriel Domínguez and Masood Saifullah.