New Taliban guidelines raise fears over future of press freedom

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Concerns grow over increased constraints the Taliban government has placed on news media in Afghanistan, after authorities released a new framework of rules for journalists who critics say open the door to censorship and censorship. repression.

Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, acting director of the government’s Information and Media Center and longtime spokesperson for the Taliban, this week unveiled 11 rules for journalists. They include guidelines against publishing material in conflict with Islam or insulting national figures, and also require journalists to produce reports in coordination with the government media office.

Afghanistan’s once vibrant media industry has been in freefall since the Taliban took control last month. Many Afghan journalists have fled the country fearing repression and violence from the new rulers, while dozens of others have gone into hiding and are still seeking a way out of Afghanistan.

More than 100 local media companies and radio stations across the country have gone out of business, after being shut down, taken over by the Taliban or forced to close for lack of funding, local media reported. Some of the most prominent newspapers have had to cease their printing activities and now only publish online, amid the country’s deep economic recession.

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The US press freedom organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has focused on emergency response to help Afghan journalists and to track violence against journalists by the Taliban.

“Journalists are just scared,” said Steven Butler, who manages the organization’s Asia program. He said the organization had received hundreds of emails from journalists asking for help.

In early September in Kabul, the Taliban gathered dozens of protesters and journalists covering protests against the new government, subjecting them to abuse in overcrowded prisons, according to journalists present. Photos showed the backs of two detained journalists covered in bruises and gashes after being whipped with cables, sparking international outcry.

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More than a dozen Afghan journalists and media workers interviewed by The New York Times earlier this month described living with a sense of fear and self-censorship – while struggling to disseminate information despite the fact that the Taliban publish very little information.

The new rules announced by the Taliban have done little to calm the nervousness of members of the media and journalists’ advocates.

Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders called the rules “frightening” in a statement Thursday, and warned that although some of them – like calls for the truth and ‘balance – may seem reasonable, on the whole the rules were “” extremely dangerous as they pave the way for censorship and persecution.

In its statement, the group noted that although some clauses were similar to the wording of the Afghan media law, the Taliban had dropped any mention of compliance with international standards and conventions on press freedom.

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The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of the rules could be used in a coercive manner, said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, in the statement. “They do not bode well for the future of journalistic independence and pluralism in Afghanistan.”

Mr Butler said the vagueness of the rules and their lack of standards would allow them to be abused.

“You don’t really know what it means or how it will be interpreted,” he said. “Many countries in the region have equally vague rules, and they are regularly used to prosecute journalists, to put them in jail. “

“Are we going to assume that the Taliban are going to behave better than these other governments that claim to be democracies?” ” he said. “It’s hard to be optimistic about that one.”

Wali Arien contributed reports.