Taliban militants have attacked several journalists covering a Kabul rally by a group of women demanding "work, bread, and education," spurring concerns about the deterioration of the rights situation under Afghanistan’s new rulers.
After it toppled the internationally recognized government in Kabul in mid-August, the Taliban claimed it would show more moderation than during its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, when girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work, education, and sports.
However, the United Nations and rights groups have slammed the Taliban's "broken" promises to allow women to work and girls to have access to all levels of education, and blamed Afghanistan’s new rulers for imposing “wide-ranging restrictions” on media and free speech.
With girls in only five of Afghanistan's 34 provinces allowed to attend secondary schools, and the vast majority of women ordered not to return to work, a group of about 20 women marched in the streets of Kabul on October 21 to defend their rights.
The demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Don't politicize education" before the Taliban intervened.
At one point a Taliban fighter struck a foreign photographer with the butt of his rifle and kicked him as another militant punched the journalist, according to AFP.
At least two other journalists were hit as they scattered, pursued by Taliban fighters swinging fists and launching kicks, the news agency reported.
"The situation is that the Taliban don't respect anything: not journalists -- foreign and local -- or women," said Zahra Mohammadi, one of the protest organizers.
Taliban officials did not immediately comment. Afghans have staged scattered street protests since the Taliban takeover, many with women at the forefront, despite a ban on unauthorized demonstrations.
The previous day, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, tweeted: “The education of ALL girls in Afghanistan must resume now.”
“Millions of children have already lost out on learning because of conflict and COVID-19. As schools reopen, girls cannot, and must not, be left behind.”
The Taliban has announced 11 new “journalism rules” that rights groups say could be used to persecute journalists, and detained and beaten a number of them over the past weeks.