By Pierre Tran
Paris – The prospect of the Taliban exercising a severe grip on Afghan society fuels fears for the rights of Afghan women, lives of journalists, and freedom of the press in a stricken nation.
That grim outlook for independent reporting has led to calls for governments around the world to rally round and help Afghan media workers who seek to leave Afghanistan.
Media groups called Aug. 23 on governments to take “immediate action” to support media workers, said the International Federation of Journalists, a Brussels-based independent organization.
“A group of media support organisations, including the IFJ, has called on the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) of governments to commit and take immediate action to support Afghan media workers,” the IFJ said.
Deadly proof of hostile intent came with Taliban insurgents killing Aug. 19 a relative of a journalist of Deutsche Welle, the German public sector broadcaster, as they went in pursuit of the DW editor.
A door-to-door search for the DW journalist led to the killing of the member of the family, severely injuring another, and forcing flight of other relatives, DW reported. Those family members were now on the run.
Toofan Omar, head of Paktia Ghag Radio, a private broadcaster, had been targeted and killed by Taliban fighters, while Nematullah Hemat of Gharghasht TV, a private television station, had been kidnapped, DW reported.
Afghan memories of an older generation are marked by public stoning and whipping under the Taliban interpretation of the Sharia law, when the radical Islamist movement ruled in the 1990s. Since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, a younger generation of Afghans grew up with women working in a large media community.
All that is about to change.
Women journalists come under great threat, as the Taliban see their gender putting them in a subordinate role. There are reports of the insurgents seizing women and girls for wives, and accounts of rape, British daily The Guardian reported Aug. 16.
“In the last 24 hours, our lives have changed and we have been confined to our homes, and death threatens us at every moment,” said Aaisha, a woman journalist, the daily reported.
“We see silence filled with fear of the Taliban around us,” she said. The name of the journalist was changed.
In the UK, the government led by Boris Johnson, a former journalist, agreed to waive lengthy visa requirements to bring Afghan media workers into Britain, in response to a call from the National Union of Journalists, broadcasters and newspapers.
More than 200 Afghan journalists and their close family will receive speeded up evacuation, but there is grave concern on getting them to the airport, The Observer reported Aug. 22. There is also need to get more than 80 Afghan nationals who had worked for the British Council out of the country.
The International Federation of Journalists, backed by the NUJ, is calling for nation states to help journalists and their families to get out of the country by granting visas, safe passage to the airport, and to keep the airport secure for evacuation flights.
The IFJ, working in the Media Freedom Coalition Consultative Network, calls for an easing of funding transfer to Afghanistan, and insisting on Afghanistan to uphold human rights principles in the Aug. 24 special session on Afghanistan of the UN human rights council.
Taliban to control news flow
“For the Afghan journalists who stay on in the country, the outlook is for the media to be dominated by the Taliban,” said Gilles Dorronsoro, professor of political science at Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne university.
“There will not be a multiparty system, Sharia religious rules will apply, and there will be public censorship,” he said.
The attempt to evacuate media workers is “chaotic,” which was initially due to lack of organization among western nations, he said.
“The CIA held up the allies’ evacuation effort by controlling those who sought to enter the Kabul airport by the northern entrance,” he said. “The CIA sought to conduct a security check to prevent terrorists taking the evacuation flights. That security check was done extremely slowly and without consultation with western partner nations.
“The evacuation is highly fluid and it is hard to tell how many journalists have been flown out,” he said.
The US supported Afghan media, particularly local radio, before the Nato withdrawal in 2014, he said. After 2014, the local media lacked protection from western nations.
There were physical threats from the bodyguards of the then president Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban, he said. “Male journalists dominated the Afghan media, with the notable exception of television, in which there were women presenters.”
For Rony Brauman, former head of Médecins Sans Frontières, a non governmental aid agency, the evacuation is the culmination of a 20-year “bubble of isolation” pursued by western nations.
That extended occupation by the west fostered a structural problem of social, political, and military isolation, and the present crisis was the “hubris of nation building,” he said.
However, there were perhaps grounds for hope, he said, as the Taliban needed to adopt a “collegial” approach to form a new administration. That would require the Taliban leaders accepting that much has changed in Afghan society over the last 20 years.
The Taliban will also need to foster relations with international organizations and their neighbours, including Iran, led by Shi’ite muslims, he said. That could lead the Taliban to a softer approach to the Shi’ite community in Afghanistan.
Back in 2001, Laura Bush, the then first lady, said in the weekly radio address to the nation there was need for support to women and children in Afghanistan.
“Fighting brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it’s the acceptance of our common humanity, a commitment shared by people of good will on every continent,” she said Nov. 17 2001.
Featured Graphic: Map of Central Asia with Afghanistan captured by the Taliban. Instead of the flag of Afghanistan, there is a Taliban sign on the contour of the country. Northern neighbors of Afghanistan after Taliban seized the country. Credit: Bigstock