The Taliban has declared two of Afghanistan's major television networks and their employees legitimate targets due to their alleged "disrespectful and hostile actions" against the militant group.
In making the announcement in an October 12 statement, the Taliban labeled the privately run Tolo TV and 1TV as "propaganda networks." Both are popular, outspoken independent television stations that are often critical of the Taliban.
The militant group said the move was in direct response to the commercial networks' coverage of the situation in Kunduz Province; specifically their reports of Taliban fighters allegedly raping women at a female hostel in the northern city of Kunduz, which the militants seized on September 28. The Taliban denied the reports, saying the coverage was an "example of propaganda by these satanic networks."
The Taliban statement said it no longer recognized the two channels as media outlets and considered them "military objectives due to their disrespectful and hostile actions."
"No employee, anchor, office, news team, and reporter of these TV channels holds any immunity," the statement said. "All the reporters and associates of these channels will be deemed enemy personnel, all of their centers, offices and dispatched teams will be considered military objectives which will be directly eliminated."
The head of Tolo TV, Saad Mohseni, said the Taliban threats would not deter the network's work.
"Proud to say that our people will always report without bias and fear," Mohseni posted on Twitter on October 12. "We will not be intimidated by any group."
The Taliban statement said the Afghan media outlets were part of a "propaganda war" it says the United States is carrying out in the country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that overthrew the Taliban regime.
"Its programs are presented as propaganda material aimed at supporting the American invaders and their stooges, combatting jihad and struggle of the valiant Afghan nation, challenging Islamic principles, and encouraging the division of national unity of the country," it added.
The militant group urged people to "boycott" the two media outlets.
"People should stop visiting the main offices and branches of these channels, cease participating in its programs and bar all its reporters from entering their homes. Intellectuals should stop partaking in its news reports and the Muslim nation should generally quit watching and strongly boycott them."
Aid To Free Up Media
Afghanistan's media development is often cited as one of the biggest achievements of the past decade, coming after the Taliban had banned all forms of music and television, as well as independently reported news. Under the Taliban regime there was only state-owned radio, the Taliban's Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. State Department have spent tens of millions of dollars supporting independent media in Afghanistan since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001.
The Moby Group, the parent company that owns Tolo TV, received $2 million from USAID in 2004 to launch the 24/7 news network. However, Tolo TV told RFE/RL in 2014 that it was self-sufficient and no longer received U.S. funding.
1TV was launched in 2009 by Afghan entrepreneur Fahim Hashimy. It is unclear whether it has received U.S. or other foreign funding.
Despite the gains, independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from religious leaders, ex-warlords, and even the government itself.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in January that violence and threats against Afghan journalists was increasing.
The U.S.-based group documented harassment, intimidation, and attacks on journalists and the Afghan government’s failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
HRW said the Taliban insurgency has greatly contributed to the climate of fear by explicitly targeting journalists for reporting deemed unfavorable.
Reporters Without Borders, in June, condemned of the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for crimes of violence against media personnel in Afghanistan.
Three Afghan reporters were killed last year.
The Taliban's threats against Tolo and 1TV come as the militant group's reach has expanded to levels not seen since 2001, the UN said in a recent report.
The UN has rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either "high" or "extreme," more than at any time since the invasion.