With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, dozens of journalists and media officials have fled the country due to fears of Taliban reprisals. The Taliban have repeatedly threatened certain media outlets that have played a pivotal role in promoting democratic values, human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy over the past two decades. Some journalists from these outlets have faced arbitrary detention and torture. Despite leaving the country, these media outlets have continued their operations from abroad. The Taliban have imposed significant restrictions on access to information. According to Taliban directives, spokespersons for the group are forbidden from engaging with exiled media, and they have revoked licenses and blocked the internet domains of some exiled media outlets. The Taliban’s creation of an inhospitable environment, their pursuit of reprisals, government agencies’ reluctance to share information, and the lack of support from media-supporting entities are identified as fundamental challenges for exiled media.
Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, severe restrictions against media and freedom of speech have been imposed in the country. Self-censorship, prohibition of criticism against Taliban authorities, and the cessation of music, recreational, and political programs conflicting with the ideological beliefs of this group have led some media outlets to halt their operations within Afghanistan and continue their work as exile media regarding Afghanistan.
Some journalists from exiled media outlets state that accessing information within Afghanistan is now met with serious challenges and has become nearly impossible. According to them, the Taliban do not tolerate criticism of their regime, and media outlets face significant difficulties in reporting on issues that remain hidden from the public eye.
The Taliban pursue and interrogate media outlets and journalists who report on governmental shortcomings and the group’s unlawful and unprofessional behavior. Some journalists from exiled media outlets express grave concerns about the escalating difficulties in accessing information. They argue that Taliban persecution and reprisals are intensifying daily, and access to information is becoming more restricted. According to them, not only does the Taliban regime lack any form of law or guideline to support exiled media, but the activities of these outlets are entirely prohibited by this group.
Exiled media journalists describe working as “undercover police,” facing severe security threats to themselves and their families, and risking death if identified by the Taliban.
Kianoosh Mehrwarz (pseudonym), working with one of the exiled media outlets under Taliban rule, considers the challenges of accessing information and security concerns for journalists inexpressible. This journalist selected a pseudonym for themselves due to security threats and describes how the eyes of journalists working for exiled media within Afghanistan are deprived of sleep due to the psychological pressure stemming from Taliban reprisals.
Mr. Mehrwarz adds, “I am overwhelmed with extreme fear and anxiety because it’s clear what fate awaits us when caught by the Taliban, stealing our sleep. Moreover, working online is much harder than fieldwork. We cannot make direct calls, making it difficult for us to verify the accuracy of events.”
This journalist from an exiled media outlet adds, ‘Most of these outlets rely on citizen journalism, and when people are too afraid to provide even basic information, imagine how challenging journalism and fact-checking become. The slightest mistake throws the journalist into the Taliban’s clutches.'”
Mozhgan (pseudonym), one of the female journalists, says that the Taliban have banned the activities of exiled media outlets. According to her, any journalist working with these outlets is viewed as an ‘enemy’ who ‘must be silenced.’ She adds that the lack of job security causes the journalist to experience ‘accumulated stress.'”
This journalist further emphasizes that the Taliban’s restrictions and societal pressures confine her to house arrest, and lack of family support leaves her without any familial refuge. She notes that it’s rare to find someone willing to talk about their life’s problems with journalists, and families preemptively caution female journalists about the consequences of their actions.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Qureshi, the executive director of the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC), speaking to the Hasht-e Subh Daily, states that the Taliban have verbally issued orders prohibiting cooperation with exiled media outlets, further intensifying the restriction of access to information.
The Executive Director of the AFJC adds that the Taliban supreme leader’s directive against criticizing the group’s authorities constitutes a fundamental constraint on accessing information and producing reports, especially investigative ones. According to him, the Taliban’s lack of responsiveness further restricts access to information and poses numerous challenges in the field of information dissemination.
Mr. Qureshi emphasizes that alongside other restrictions, one of the Taliban’s guidelines prohibits media from engaging with their critics and political opponents, leading to further limitations in accessing information. He states that Taliban directives form the group’s media policy, and the majority of journalist detentions stem from non-compliance with these directives. According to him, “These directives do not clarify the consequences of deviation, which intensifies the threats and journalist detentions.”
The Executive Director of the Afghanistan Journalists Center adds that over the past two years, the Taliban have imposed significant restrictions on media, including exiled media outlets. He cites the blocking of the internet domain of the Hasht-e Subh Daily as an example of restrictions against exiled media outlets.
The Taliban have blocked the internet domain of the Hasht-e Subh Daily, which was legally purchased, as part of their restrictions against exiled media outlets. Additionally, they have issued arrest warrants for publishers and staff members of ten media outlets, including the Hasht-e Subh Daily.
Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, which recently suspended its activities in Afghanistan, has listed these ten media outlets along with some others. According to Nai, the Hasht-e Subh Daily, Etilaatroz Newspaper, and some other inactive media outlets are subject to the Taliban’s orders for trial in absentia and apprehension.
It’s worth mentioning that over the past two years, no laws or support from international organizations have been announced to support journalists in exile and exiled media outlets. However, recently, Penelope Winterhager, Managing Director of the JX Fund, in a statement on the occasion of the symposium “Rebuilding Afghan Media in Exile: Challenges, Chances, and the Path Forward,” stated that the organization is committed to sustainably strengthening exiled media outlets.
It’s noteworthy that in a recent development, the Hasht-e Subh Daily obtained information indicating that the Taliban have pressured domestic media to allocate 50 percent of their airtime and publications to promote the programs of their regime.