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2.7. Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders

Last update: November 2021

This profile refers to journalists, media workers and civil society representatives.

With regard to women journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, see also 2.9.3 Women in public roles.

COI summary

Already in past years, journalists, media workers, commentators and human rights defenders were targeted by anti-government armed groups as well as by former State actors, warlords, powerful local figures, and organised criminal groups. This was especially the case for those who reported on human rights issues (especially women’s rights), critically covered activities of parties in the conflict, exposed corruption, criticised impunity or publicly expressed certain opinions. Journalists were often intimidated and threatened by parties in the conflict in order to cover their version of events. Women journalists were priority targets and were especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda was adhered to. There were reports of killing, beating, intimidation, detention and mistreatment of journalists [COI query on journalists, media workers and human rights defendersState structure, 1.8.1; Conflict targeting, 1.2.9, 1.5.1, 2.3].

Analysts commented on the increase in targeted killings of ANSF members, journalists and also members of the judiciary, women’s rights activists and other members of civil society in the winter of 2020-2021, noting that the insurgents were ‘pre-emptively targeting independently-minded ‘public intellectuals’ in the hope of eventually capturing the capital’. Sources also suggested that the continued assassination of government employees, security officials, and journalists by the Taliban during the first quarter of 2021 was intended to weaken the morale of the Afghan forces and undermine public trust in the government [Security September 2021, 1.4.3].

Since the Taliban takeover, Afghan journalism is reportedly facing challenges. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claimed that around 100 media outlets had stopped operating, while hundreds of Afghan journalists had either gone into hiding or were trying to flee the country. Other sources also reported on journalists fleeing Afghanistan and on dozens of TV and radio outlets stopping their broadcasting or being seized by the Taliban. Media outlets that remained operational reportedly worked in accordance with new conditions set by the Taliban and private channels reduced content that posed a risk of provoking the Taliban, such as pop music shows or foreign soap operas, while increasingly airing appearances of the Taliban and praise for them. State television was reportedly airing Quranic recitations, Islamic shows, and Taliban announcements [Security September 2021, 1.1.4].

During the first days after the Taliban takeover, many female news anchors and reporters quickly disappeared from broadcasting media. Some soon resumed work and appeared on screen again. On 17 August 2021, a female news anchor interviewed a Taliban spokesperson on air, and another female journalist reported from the streets of Kabul. However, both left Afghanistan soon after. There were reports on the Taliban preventing female journalists and media presenters from resuming work and analysts have commented that the continuation of women’s appearances in media was just an initial trend [Security September 2021, 1.1.4].

There were also some reports on media workers being beaten by the Taliban. On 18 August, it was reported that a journalist was beaten for covering a demonstration in the city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province. Another journalist was reportedly beaten for trying to interview a Taliban member in front of the airport in Kabul. On 19 August, Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that a family member of one of the media outlet’s journalists was shot by the Taliban during a house-to-house search. On 20 August, a TV station director was allegedly subjected to an intrusion of armed men into his home, a vehicle and other equipment were stolen and the director says his life was threatened. According to Tolo News, the Taliban has said that they are investigating this report [Security September 2021, 1.1.4].

On 22 August, the Taliban announced that they had formed a committee that will prevent and probe acts of violence against journalists. According to Tolo News, it was formed due to serious concerns about the safety of journalists and media workers following the reports of violence against journalists in Kabul and Nangahar provinces. Shortly after, on 24 August, RSF published a press release in which private TV channels were said to be subjected to frequent threats, and in which a producer claimed that the Taliban had beaten five of the channel’s staff in the past week and labelled them as ‘takfiri’ (unbelievers). The producer also accused Taliban members of ‘systematically’ trying to influence reporters in the field. On 25 August, a journalist and a camera operator were also allegedly beaten by Taliban members [Security September 2021, 1.1.4].

Human rights defenders’ work can also be considered dangerous throughout Afghanistan because human rights are often seen as an alien, Western or a non-Islamic concept. Intimidation, harassment, threats and violence against human rights defenders and activists by both the former authorities and by anti-government elements have been documented [COI query on journalists, media workers and human rights defenders; State structure, 1.8.1; Conflict targeting, 1.2.9, 1.5.1, 2.3].

Targeted attacks by anti-government armed groups on civilians, including human rights defenders, continued to be documented throughout March to August 2021. UNAMA also reported on the imposition of restrictions on personal and social freedoms in areas newly captured by the Taliban, causing communities to fear for human rights defenders and those who speak out against the Taliban [Security September 2021, 1.4.2, 1.4.4, 2.1].

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. killing, detention, beatings).

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders seen by the Taliban as critical of them or as not complying with conditions set by the Taliban are likely to have a well-founded fear of persecution. For other journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, additional risk-impacting circumstances would be needed to substantiate a well-founded fear of persecution.

The situation of female journalists, media workers and human rights defenders should be assessed with particular care.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion and/or religion.