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Female Journalists Are Disappearing From Afghanistan’s Media Landscape, Group Warns

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid (center, with shawl) speaks to the media at the airport in Kabul on August 31.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on the Taliban leadership to provide immediate guarantees for the freedom and safety of female journalists in Afghanistan, where it said hundreds of them have been forced to stay home since the hard-line Islamist group took control of the country more than two weeks ago.

Amid “incidents involving Afghan women journalists since the Taliban takeover on 15 August and orders to respect Islamic laws,” an RSF investigation has established that fewer than 100 women journalists are still formally working at privately owned radio and television stations in the capital, Kabul, compared to 700 last year, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on August 31.

Meanwhile, “most women journalists have been forced to stop working in the provinces, where almost all privately owned media outlets ceased operating as the Taliban forces advanced,” the group said.

Outside the capital, RSF said a handful of women journalists “are still more or less managing to work from home,” while in 2020 they were more than 1,700 of them working for media outlets in the three provinces of Kabul, Herat, and Balkh.

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said women journalists “must be able to resume working without being harassed as soon as possible, because it is their most basic right, because it is essential for their livelihood, and also because their absence from the media landscape would have the effect of silencing all Afghan women.”

Since the Western-backed government and Afghan Army collapsed under a lightning Taliban offensive, the Taliban has sought to portray a more moderate image than when it ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

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However, there is growing evidence that the reality on the ground is different to the rhetoric coming from Taliban leaders and spokesmen, with many reports saying summary executions and house-to-house searches for those who worked with international groups or the previous government are occurring across the country.

According to RSF, female reporters with privately owned television channels such as TOLOnews, Ariana News, Kabul News, Shamshad TV, and Khurshid TV started being harassed soon after the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Nahid Bashardost of the independent news agency Pajhwok was beaten by Taliban militants while doing a report near Kabul airport on August 25.

Other female journalists said that Taliban guards stationed outside their media outlets had prevented them from going out to cover stories.

RSF cited a woman journalist working for a radio station in the southeastern province of Ghazni as saying that members of the Islamist group visited the station and warned: “You are a privately owned radio station. You can continue, but without any woman’s voice and without music.”

In Kabul, a member of the Taliban replaced a female anchor at state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) while another female anchor was denied entry to the building.

“RTA employed 140 women journalists until mid-August. Now, none of them dares to go back to work at the state TV channels, which are now under Taliban control,” RSF said.

Meanwhile, executives and editors at privately owned media outlets that have not already decided to stop operating said that, under pressure, they have advised their women journalists to stay at home.

Afghanistan was ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index published in April.

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