Afghanistan
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(Last Updated On: September 7, 2023)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) this week released nine journalists who had been in custody following a spate of arrests targeting media workers employed by different outlets.

While welcoming the move to release the nine journalists, media watchdogs have called for all journalists still in custody to be released immediately.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Afghan Independent Journalists Union (AIJU), have condemned the IEA’s crackdown on journalists and called for the immediate release of all media workers still in custody.

The IFJ said in a statement on Tuesday that on September 2, Paktia journalist Habibullah Sarab, and Kunar journalist Parviz Sargand were released from IEA custody. Reports indicated they had been arrested for having worked for media outlets operating in exile. 

“The pair had been in detention since August 11. The day before, Zabul journalist and Afghanistan National Journalists Union (ANJU) representative Mehboob Hakimi were also released from prison,” read the statement.

AIJU said that on August 31, four media workers, including TOLONews reporter Attaullah Omar; Killid Radio head Faqir Mohammad Faqirzai and reporter Jan Agha Saleh; and Salam Watandar reporter Hasib Hassas were released after being detained on allegations of working for exiled or foreign news outlets. All of them had been held in custody for a week.

This comes after a dramatic increase in arrests by the IEA of journalists through the month of August.

On August 14, Kandahar-based journalist Waheedur Rahman Afghanmal was detained and questioned about his work, before being released on bail the following day. Freelancer Shamsullah Omari was also detained in a separate incident and released on August 24, AIJU said.

French-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi remains in prison following his arrest in January, shortly after he arrived in Kabul. The IFJ has however been informed that Behboudi will be tried on charges of espionage.

In relation to the nine journalists released this week, the AIJU said: “We welcome the release of all the arrested journalists. We once again ask the officials of the Islamic Emirate to follow up on the cases related to the work of the media through the ‘Commission for Investigation of Complaints and Handling of Media Violations’.”

The IFJ said: “This latest crackdown on Afghan media under the Taliban (IEA) regime has seen the country’s journalists and media workers continue to face increasing incidents of arbitrary arrest, harassment, and attack, despite assurances to the contrary. While the release of nine journalists is a welcome development, the IFJ urges the Taliban (IEA) to immediately free all media workers still in custody and work to protect the safety and security of all journalists in Afghanistan.”

A number of organizations supporting the media and journalists have meanwhile called for the immediate ratification of the media law. According to them, the lack of laws has made dealing with the problems of the media and journalists difficult.

“I hope that according to the promises made regarding the law of public media and the law of access to information, the fate of these two laws will be clarified as soon as possible and will be made available to the media community,” said Masroor Lutfi, a member of (ANJU).

But Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, denies an increase in arrests and violence against journalists in the country. He says a number of journalists were investigated for issues unrelated to journalism but that they have been released. Others still in prison are being investigated.

Mujahid also said a new media law has been drawn up and sent to the IEA’s supreme leader for approval.