1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

The Taliban's failure to protect journalists

Stephanie Burnett
August 27, 2021

The Taliban pledged press freedom and "no threats" against journalists in Afghanistan. But intimidation and violence at the hands of their fighters illustrate the group's haste in breaking its promises.

A Taliban fighter stands guard near a checkpoint in Kabul
Since taking power, Taliban militants have beaten and killed reporters in AfghanistanImage: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

After the Taliban ousted the Afghan government earlier this month, a spokesman for the militant group made a series of public pledges amid heightened scrutiny — and skepticism. The tone may have been conciliatory, but the West and international organizations, including the UN,eyed the statements warily. One such pledge outlined in the Taliban's August 17 statement was that there would be "no threats" against journalists.

Ten days on, however, Taliban fighters continue to target journalists and their families.

What did the Taliban say?

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had said (via Al Jazeera translation): "Journalists working for state or privately owned media are not criminals and none of them will be prosecuted.

"There will be no threat against them. If journalists have stayed at home in some places, it is because of the war situation. They will soon be able to work as before," he added. 

Zabihullah Mujahid speaking into microphones with hands in the air
Zabihullah Mujahid tried to present the Taliban as less extreme than many fearImage: Rahmat Gul/AP Photo/picture alliance

"Once again, I would like to assure the media, we are committed to media within our cultural frameworks. Private media can continue to be free and independent, they can continue their activities — with some requests for the media."

The comments were met with immediate skepticism as, up to this point, journalists were frequently killed,  detained or injured by Taliban militants. Less than two weeks before Mujahid's press conference, suspected Taliban fighters killed Afghan journalist Toofan Omar.

What's happened since?

Since the Taliban's unprecedented statement less than two weeks ago, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told DW it has recorded seven incidents of Afghan reporters and photographers being beaten at the hands of the Taliban, including two serious cases involving female journalist Nahid Bashardost and TOLOnews reporter Ziar Khan Yaad.

Yaad said he and his cameraman were assaulted at gunpoint on Wednesday. The two were reporting on poverty in Kabul when the beating occurred, said Yaad, adding that their equipment — including mobile phones and cameras — were confiscated.

line of people with suitcases and backpacks, including children, walking on the Kabul airport tarmac toward planes
Thousands of people, including journalists, have been evacuated from Kabul, but many remain and fear for their livesImage: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/AP Photo/picture alliance

Yaad told DW on Friday that his equipment and phone have not yet been returned and that no arrests have been made. He said the Taliban continue to answer his phone when friends and family try to reach him on the mobile number, and that the militants ask for the reporter's home address is. Yaad said he is also concerned for his family's safety. 

"My family had to leave home and move to another area," he said. "My family is worried about me, and I'm worried about my family."

There were also 12 cases of journalists being arrested by the Taliban — all of whom were released in the hours that followed.

"Fortunately, no one has been killed as far as we know since the Taliban took over the control of Kabul," an RSF spokesperson told DW.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the homes of at least two members of the press were raided. As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the homes of at least four other news journalists and news agency employees were also raided.

Privately owned Afghan news organizations have also reported daily threats against their journalists.

Defining 'independent media'

Media organizations and activists are urging the new regime to clarify what "free and independent" means for private media and how it will be applied within, as the Taliban spokesperson had specified, the extremist group's "cultural frameworks."

The Taliban say they will govern according to Sharia law, or Islamic law. While the group has remained vague on its exact interpretation today, the Taliban's brutal history of applying what it called Sharia law in the 1990s fostered draconian punishments and nearly no rights for women — prompting fears of what may come. 

Reporters Without Borders told DW: "We are asking the Taliban to provide clear and written rules for the press to avoid arbitrary situations, as we have noticed these last days."

Earlier this week, RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement, "Officially, the new Afghan authorities have not issued any regulations, but the media and reporters are being treated in an arbitrary manner.

"Are the Taliban already dropping their masks? We ask them to guarantee conditions for journalism worthy of the name."

Editor’s note: After this article was published, new developments in Afghanistan raised concerns for one journalist’s safety. The article was amended on 28 August, 2021.


Shamil Shams: A scary time in Afghanistan