Taliban fighters patrol the streets in Herat, Afghanistan, on August 14, 2021. Taliban fighters in Herat recently detained journalist Morteza Samadi. (AFP)

Afghan photographer Morteza Samadi detained by Taliban since September 7

Washington, D.C., September 13, 2021 — The Taliban must immediately and unconditionally release freelance photographer Morteza Samadi and commit to allowing the media to operate freely and independently, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 7, Taliban fighters detained Samadi after he covered a protest in the western city of Herat, according to Ezzatullah Mehrdad, a reporter covering Afghanistan for The Washington Post, who is familiar with his case and spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and another person familiar with the case, who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal by the Taliban.

Mehrdad told CPJ that he called Samadi on September 7 after hearing that he was detained, and a Taliban official answered and said, “he is in custody.” The official accused Samadi of leading the protests against the Taliban in Herat and chanting against the Taliban, he said.

As of today, Samadi remains in Taliban custody, according to Mehrdad and the person who spoke to CPJ.

“The detention of Afghan journalist Morteza Samadi is further evidence of the Taliban’s failure to stick to their earlier promises of allowing media workers to operate freely and independently,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “The Taliban must immediately release Samadi and stop targeting journalists for their work.”

Mehrdad said he had repeatedly called Samadi’s phone since September 7, but the line was busy.

Mehrdad and the person familiar with the case told CPJ that Samadi had posted on Facebook in support of the protests the day before his arrest. CPJ was unable to review those posts, as the journalist’s account has been deactivated or set to private.

Samadi has worked as a freelance news photographer for about two years, according to the person familiar with the case, who said Samadi previously worked as a reporter with Chekad TV and Radio Television Afghanistan, outlets operated by the former Afghan government.

Separately on September 7, at about 12:30 p.m., Taliban fighters with the Red Unit special forces group assaulted two journalists working for a local broadcaster as they covered an anti-Taliban protest near the Iranian embassy in Kabul, according to those journalists, who spoke to CPJ on the condition that their names and their outlet not be identified, citing fear of reprisal by the Taliban.

The fighters beat the first journalist on his head and back with their hands, feet, and an iron rod, and threatened to jail him for covering the protest, the journalist told CPJ. He said he had significant pain from the attack but did not require medical attention.

The second journalist said that Red Unit fighters beat him “all over my body” with their hands, feet, and cables, adding that he fell to the ground during the beating and the fighters continued to hit and kick him.

That journalist sustained open wounds on his hands and knees, as seen in photos he shared with CPJ. He received medical attention at a hospital following the incident, where his hands and knees were bandaged and he was prescribed painkillers, he said.

The fighters also confiscated the first journalist’s phone and deleted footage of the protests before returning it, broke the journalists’ camera, and also confiscated their tripod, which they did not return, both told CPJ.

On September 7 and 8, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests against the group in Kabul, as CPJ documented. CPJ is continuing to investigate additional alleged detentions and beatings of Afghan journalists since the Taliban seized power in August.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson in Afghanistan, and Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.