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The Azadi Briefing: Afghan Journalists Face 'Terrifying' Conditions Under Taliban Rule

A member of the Taliban security forces keeps watch during an event organized to mark World Press Freedom Day at the Afghan Independent Journalists Association office in Kabul on May 3.
A member of the Taliban security forces keeps watch during an event organized to mark World Press Freedom Day at the Afghan Independent Journalists Association office in Kabul on May 3.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, a senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban has intensified its crackdown on independent reporters and media outlets in Afghanistan, where the militant group has stamped out any form of dissent.

An Afghan media watchdog said cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, threats, and intimidation of journalists rose by around 60 percent in the past year.

In its annual report issued on May 3, the Afghanistan Journalist Center said it documented 213 human rights violations against media personnel in the past year. During that time, one journalist was killed and 21 wounded in attacks targeting media workers.

"Taliban intelligence has made our working environment terrifying," a female Afghan journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told Radio Azadi. "Journalists face torture and detentions daily, which shows the real state of press freedom in our country."

Afghan media advocacy group NAI said around half of Afghanistan's estimated 600 media outlets have closed since the Taliban seized power in 2021. Around two-thirds of reporters have lost their jobs in that time, according to NAI.

Female media workers have been disproportionately affected. The Taliban's restrictions on women's right to work has left many women journalists unable to carry out their jobs.

Why It's Important: Since seizing power, the Taliban has waged a brutal crackdown on dissent that has targeted human rights defenders, women activists, intellectuals, and journalists.

The clampdown appears to have intensified in recent months, with the United Nations highlighting the "concerning number of civil society activists and media workers have been detained since early 2023."

They include journalists Khairullah Parhar and Mortaza Behboudi.

"Journalists are being forced to make editorial decisions based on fear, not public interest. It's sadly part of a wider trend of declining freedom of expression and access to information," said Roza Otunbaeva, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.

What's Next: The Taliban appears likely to further restrict the freedom of the press in Afghanistan as part of a wider rolling back of basic rights.

Despite promising to allow free media upon seizing power, the Taliban has issued decrees intended to protect its government from "disrespectful" criticism by the media.

The militants have also issued "11 rules for journalists" that prohibit the publication or broadcasting of reports that are "contrary to Islam," and which discourage reporting of news that has not been confirmed by Taliban officials.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban has announced that it will build a nearly 1,500-kilometer-long railway line connecting three major Afghan cities.

The Taliban's chief spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the railway line would connect the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif with the southern city of Kandahar via the western city of Herat.

Mujahid said the Taliban would fund the ambitious project through domestic revenues.

Why It's Important: The project underscores the Taliban's ambitions to transform Afghanistan into a trading hub connecting Central Asia to South Asia.

But it is doubtful whether the Taliban government has the finances and technical expertise to complete the multibillion-dollar project on its own.

There is also little indication that neighboring or regional powers are willing or able to step in to help the Taliban, whose government remains unrecognized and is under international sanctions.

The Taliban has gone ahead with a giant canal project in northern Afghanistan that has provoked controversy in the region. Meanwhile, its attempts to attract Chinese investment in the mining sector have yet to bear fruit.

That's all from me for now.

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.