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2.7. Journalists and media workers

Last update: April 2022

This profile refers to journalists and persons working in the media.

With regard to women journalists and media workers, see also 2.12.3 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 journalists 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’ [Security September 2021, 1.4.3].

Since the Taliban takeover, Afghan journalism is reportedly facing challenges. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claimed in August 2021 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].

In September 2021, the Taliban issued guidelines for journalists, including rules against addressing topics in conflict with Islam or ‘insulting national personalities’, and instructing media to produce reports in coordination with the Taliban government’s media office. Still operating media workers faced restrictions in carrying out their work. The Taliban’s regulations were vague, and thus difficult to follow in practice. In November 2021, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued media guidelines banning films or shows ‘against Islamic or Afghan values’ and in which Afghan media were called to stop broadcasting ‘soap operas or dramas featuring women actors’ [Country Focus 2022, 2.3.1, 2.6].

Reporters also faced difficulties in covering unauthorized events such as women’s protests.  During September and October 2021, a number of journalists was detained and later released, while others were subjected to violence in custody, or assaulted by the Taliban while covering the protests. There were also reports on Taliban fighters subjecting journalists to violence during other types of protests, and subjecting media workers to violence and confiscating equipment for unclear reasons [Country Focus 2022, 2.6].

Some journalists were also reportedly searched for by Taliban fighters, soon after the takeover. It was reported that the Taliban were tracking down people perceived as a threat to their rule, including journalists, using ‘any means at their disposal’. Also, they had raided the homes of at least three journalists, and a family member of one of the journalists was killed and another injured by Taliban fighters during a house-to-house search. In another instance close to the takeover, armed men reportedly broke into the home of a TV station director, stole vehicles and other equipment, and threatened him [Country Focus 2022, 2.6].

In October 2021 the Afghanistan National Journalists Union (ANJU) claimed that it had recorded more than 30 separate incidents of ‘violence and threats of violence’ against journalists in the past two months, and in almost 90 % of the cases the Taliban were identified as perpetrators [Country Focus 2022, 2.6].

The Taliban claimed to have formed a committee that would prevent and probe acts of violence against journalists however, reportedly no actual findings were presented. Furthermore, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that they had experienced difficulties in establishing contacts with the Taliban to advocate for the rights of Afghan media workers [Country Focus 2022, 2.6].

The situation for women working in the media was reportedly difficult. While many female journalists fled from Afghanistan soon after the takeover, many of those who stayed were reportedly sent home from their workplaces. There were reports on the Taliban preventing female journalists and media presenters from resuming work and by the end of August 2021, fewer than 100 of the estimated 700 women journalists in Kabul were still working. During the first days after the takeover, women quickly disappeared from broadcasting media, but some female news anchors and reporters soon resumed work and appeared on screen. However, women’s general appearance on broadcasting media reportedly dropped again soon thereafter. In October 2021, the Taliban had reportedly announced that women journalists were not allowed to appear on camera in Badakhshan province, and that women working with radio were only permitted to continue working if all staff members in a program were women. In November 2021, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued new guidelines for the media industry, where it stated that female reporters should wear a hijab when appearing on screen [Country Focus 2022, 2.6.1].

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 and media workers seen by the Taliban as critical of them or as not complying with conditions set by the Taliban would in general have a well-founded fear of persecution. For other journalists and media workers, additional risk-impacting circumstances would be needed to substantiate a well-founded fear of persecution.

The situation of female journalists and media workers 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.