Over the past two years, Afghanistan has experienced drastic changes, marked by the collapse of the republican system. The re-emergence of the Taliban has caused massive disruptions in people’s lives, leading to the abandonment of homes and jobs by many. The Taliban’s repressive rule has forced the closure of educational institutions, largely confined women to their homes, and imposed severe limitations on national and international organizations.
The media sphere was also significantly affected by the Taliban’s return to power. Their violent actions against individuals in the media caused an exodus of journalists, leaving an atmosphere of fear and obedience amongst those who remained. The freedom of speech and information access that began to thrive over the past two decades lost its essence with the Taliban’s return.
The post-2001 period saw the media sector in Afghanistan flourish. It was a significant achievement of the republican government. Afghanistan’s interim and elected governments over the past 20 years created a solid foundation for a free media, with the number of active media outlets peaking at 597. Unfortunately, the fall of the republican system led to the closure of half Afghanistan’s media outlets, plagued by unfavorable working conditions, socio-economic challenges, and the Taliban’s threats.
The suspension of various media outlets across the nation’s provinces resulted in significant job losses among journalists and media workers. Researchers observed a substantial reduction in the activity of several media types over the last two years; television output dropped by 50 percent, radio by 48 percent, mainstream news websites by 60 percent, and newer types of online media by a steep 80 percent.
Restrictions and stringent conditions imposed by the Taliban led to rampant self-censorship among local media. This played into the Taliban’s hands, as they could ramp up press restrictions quietly, away from the watchful eyes of the global community. Journalists daring to push these boundaries faced harsh reprisal from the Taliban.
The Taliban’s hostility toward the press isn’t new. In the past 20 years, the media community has lost 150 journalists to various Taliban and Islamic State attacks, 20 of which happened in the last two years alone. The harrowing situation has dealt a damaging blow to journalism in the country.
The threat posed by the Taliban and their affiliated terrorist groups is a significant concern for journalists, casting a dark shadow over their work and robbing them of peace of mind. According to our research, before the fall of the republican system in August 2021, there were 11,856 journalists and media workers in the country. Of this number, 7,746 were journalists, with the remaining 4,110 working in other roles in the media industry. It is important to note that of these figures, 2,138 (27.6 percent) were female journalists, while 5,608 were male journalists.
The closure of media outlets has forced many journalists and media workers to seek alternative employment or leave the country altogether. In 17 provinces, no female employees are currently in the media sector. In provinces where women’s participation in the media continues, but is limited, the severity of Taliban actions and imposed restrictions have deprived women of the right even to participate in public forums and gatherings. Organizers segregate male and female media workers in separate rooms during special events, where they can only hear the speakers’ voices through loudspeakers.ADVERTISEMENT
At present, approximately 2,000 journalists are working in various media outlets in Afghanistan, with only 5 percent being female journalists.
Journalists need help accessing information from sources, and there are instances where government sources refuse to provide them with the necessary information, further exacerbating the difficulties faced by journalists in the country.
The relentless suppression of journalists by the Taliban’s intelligence department, including arrests, torture, imprisonment, and humiliation, continues to plague the country. Over the past two years, dozens of journalists have been arrested and tortured under various pretexts. Taliban violence against journalists has escalated in the current year, with at least 14 journalists and radio station owners still under Taliban control, their fates unknown.
In April of this year, an explosion in Balkh province claimed the lives of two journalists and left nine others injured. The harsh actions of the Taliban against journalists have raised concerns within the media community, leading to a stagnation in media activities. Given the current state of media activity and journalism in the country, the possibility of more media outlets being closed is a genuine concern. Of the 597 media outlets in the country before the collapse of the republican government, only 384 are currently active, while 213 are inactive.
The Difficult Life of Afghan Journalists in Iran and Turkey
After the fall of the republican regime in Afghanistan, many journalists sought refuge in Iran and Turkey. However, these Afghan journalists face numerous challenges and difficulties in both countries.
In Iran, many journalists have expired visas or are without proper documentation, leaving them in a precarious legal situation. Despite contacting foreign media for support, they have not received positive responses or assistance. Afghan journalists in Iran face unemployment, economic hardships, social challenges, and the constant risk of deportation. The lack of legal documents forces them to live secretly, unable to work freely due to restrictions imposed by the authorities. This situation takes a toll on their mental well-being, with some journalists and their family members facing extreme and multifaceted pressure in psychological, economic, and social terms.
Similarly, Afghan journalists who sought refuge in Turkey also face numerous challenges. The change in the situation in Afghanistan led them to Turkey in search of security and job opportunities. However, they have encountered difficulties and problems in this new environment. A lack of stability, unemployment, and security restrictions imposed by the Turkish police have created obstacles in their daily lives. Local authorities even deprive them of the ability to sightsee in their neighborhoods. The security measures have prevented them from engaging in journalistic activities, forcing them to seek alternative means of livelihood. The uncertainty of how long they can stay and the possibility of being forced to return to Afghanistan cause mental turmoil. Economic challenges, social problems, and difficulties in the UNHCR office add to their struggles. Despite repeated requests to media freedom organizations, these journalists have yet to receive a positive response or a favorable outcome regarding their fate.
The problematic circumstances Afghan journalists face in Iran and Turkey highlight the urgent need for support and attention from the international community to ensure their safety, well-being, and the continuation of their vital work.
By Hasmat Vejdani and Amit Kumar
Note: This report was compiled by the Federation of Afghan Journalists in Exile and analyzes primary data collected through various sources in Afghanistan and abroad. This report has also appeared in the Diplomat Magazine.