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‘Wave’ Of Taliban Violence Against Journalists Raises Concerns Over Press Freedom In Peace Settlement

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a IED blast in Helmand on November 12, 2020, that killed Radio Free Afghanistan journalist Mohammad Ilyas Dayee.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the Taliban of having engaged in “a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence” against media workers in Afghanistan, which the watchdog says heightens concerns about preserving freedom of expression and the media in any peace settlement between the militant group and the Afghan government.

“A wave of threats and killings has sent a chilling message to the Afghan media at a precarious moment as Afghans on all sides get set to negotiate free speech protections in a future Afghanistan,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for HRW, said in a statement on April 1.

“By silencing critics through threats and violence, the Taliban have undermined hopes for preserving an open society in Afghanistan,” Gossman added.

Afghanistan has witnessed a rise in violence since stalling intra-Afghan peace negotiations began in Qatar in September, including targeted attacks on government employees, academics, rights workers, and journalists.

Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital, Doha, deny that the group threatens the media and say they require only that journalists respect Islamic values.

But HRW said Taliban commanders and fighters across Afghanistan make “oral and written threats” against journalists, who say “the widespread nature of the threats has meant that no media workers feel safe.”

According to the New York-based human rights group, those making the threats “often have an intimate knowledge of a journalist’s work, family, and movements and use this information to either compel them to self-censor, leave their work altogether, or face violent consequences.”

Women journalists may be targeted not only for issues they cover but also for “challenging perceived social norms prohibiting women from being in a public role and working outside the home,” HRW said.

The watchdog urged the Taliban leadership to “immediately cease intimidation, threats, and attacks” against members of the media, and “explicitly reject violence” against female media workers.

The Taliban leaders should “urgently provide clear, public directives” to all members of the group to end “all forms of violence against journalists and other media workers, and intimidation, harassment, and punishment of Afghans who have criticized Taliban policies,” HRW said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and governments supporting the peace negotiations should “publicly press” Taliban leaders to adopt these recommendations, and to provide “increased protection” to independent media organizations and journalists.

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