Taliban fighters pose for a photograph in the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. Taliban fighters there detained two journalists. (AP Photo/Sidiqullah Khan)

Pakistani journalists detained by Taliban in Afghanistan

Washington, D.C., September 3, 2021–Taliban leaders must instruct their fighters to immediately cease detaining and harassing journalists in Afghanistan and allow the media to operate freely and without fear of violence or reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 25, Taliban fighters detained Abdul Mateen Achakzai and Muhammad Ali, a reporter and camera operator with the privately owned Pakistani news channel Khyber News while the two were reporting in Kandahar city in the southern province of Kandahar, according to the Pakistan edition of English-language regional daily ArabNews, a statement by the Pakistan Press Foundation, and Mubarak Ali, chief controller of Khyber News, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. The two were released August 27, the Pakistan Press Foundation and Mubarak Ali said.

Separately, CPJ is investigating reports of the disappearance of Muhammad Iqbal Mengal, a reporter with the privately owned Pakistani broadcaster 92 News, who went missing on August 26 as he was covering the aftermath of the bombing of Kabul’s airport

Rana Muhammad Azeem, general secretary of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and an anchor with 92 News, told CPJ via messaging app that Mengal is in Taliban custody and that he has spoken on the phone with the journalist.

Azeem said he confirmed the detention with Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid and that a police officer working under the Taliban told him that Mengal was detained because he was reporting without Taliban permission and did not demonstrate a valid visa. CPJ was unable to independently confirm that Mengal is in Taliban custody. 

“It’s time for the Taliban to live up to the commitment it’s made to allow independent journalism to continue operating,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Taliban leadership must make it crystal clear to fighters around the country that they should stop detaining and interfering with journalists as they go about their work.”

Taliban fighters said they detained Achakzai and Ali because they did not demonstrate formal permission from the Taliban to report in the area and instead showed visitor visas, according to Mubarak Ali. He said the fighters confiscated the journalists’ cell phones, camera, tripod, videotapes, and other gadgets, searched their cell phones and video tapes, and returned the items the same day. During custody, the journalists were provided with food and tea and were not subjected to violence, he added.

The two were released after the Khyber News leadership and the Pakistan consulate in Kandahar contacted the Taliban leadership, he said. CPJ contacted the Pakistan consulate in Kandahar for comment via the email address available on its website but received an automatic response that the address was not found. CPJ was unable to locate other contact details.

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

CPJ also wrote to Mujahid and Shaheen via messaging app about Mengal but they did not respond.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, CPJ has documented violations including beatings and whippings of journalists, raids on media workers’ homes, and female state media reporters being forced off the air.