A member of Taliban security forces stands guard among crowds of people walking past in a street in Kabul, Afghanistan September 4, 2021. Taliban fighters detained several journalists during recent protests. (Reuters)

Taliban fighters detain, flog, and beat journalists covering protests in Afghanistan

Washington, D.C., September 8, 2021–The Taliban must immediately cease detaining journalists in Afghanistan, end the use of violence against them, and allow the media to operate freely and without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Over the last two days, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul, the capital, against the group, according to various news reports and people familiar with the incidents who spoke with CPJ via phone and messaging app. At least nine of these journalists were subject to violence during their arrests or detention, according to those sources.

Some journalists, including those with the BBC, were also prevented from filming the protest yesterday, according to the BBC.

“The Taliban is quickly proving that earlier promises to allow Afghanistan’s independent media to continue operating freely and safely are worthless,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We urge the Taliban to live up to those earlier promises, to stop beating and detaining reporters doing their job, and allow the media to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

Today, Taliban fighters detained Taqi Daryabi and Nematullah Naqdi, a video editor and a video reporter with the daily newspaper Etilaatroz, following their coverage of ongoing protests in Kabul, according to Etilaatroz and the Los Angeles Times.

Taqi Daryabi and Naqdi told Agence France-Presse that the Taliban fighters punched and beat them with batons, electrical cables, and whips after accusing them of organizing the protest. Taqi Daryabi told the Los Angeles Times that he was shoved to the ground and beaten unconscious in Taliban custody. Naqdi told AFP that Taliban fighters insulted him and kicked him in the head, and that a Taliban fighter placed his foot on his head and crushed his face against the concrete. When he was asked why he was being beaten, he was told, “you are lucky you weren’t beheaded,” he said, according to AFP.

Zaki Daryabi, Etilaatroz‘s publisher, told CPJ via phone after publication that the Taliban subjected Taqi Daryabi and Naqdi to severe physical abuse that he described as “torture” for four hours, citing the flogging, and said that each lost consciousness at least four times and one time, respectively, in custody. CPJ could not independently confirm allegations of torture.

Taqi Daryabi’s lower back, upper legs, and face, and Naqdi’s left arm, upper back, upper legs, and face were marked by red lesions after the beatings, as seen in photos posted to Twitter by Etilaatroz and Zaki Daryabi and on the Los Angeles Timeswebsite. Taqi Daryabi appeared to be unable to walk unaided, according to a video posted on Twitter by Zaki Daryabi.

CPJ was unable to immediately determine the full extent of the journalists’ injuries. The two received treatment at a hospital, according to Zaki Daryabi and a tweet by Etilaatroz.

Before they were let go, Etilaatroz’s editor and two other journalists arrived at the station to persuade the Taliban to release Taqi Daryabi and Naqdi and they were also detained, according to the Los Angeles Times and Zaki Daryabi. Al-Jazeera and Zaki Daryabi identified the editor as Kadhim Karimi and the two other journalists as Aber Shaygan and Lutfali Sultani, an investigative reporter and current affairs reporter with Etilaatroz.

Al-Jazeera reported that the three said that Taliban fighters pushed and slapped them and took their belongings, including mobile phones, upon their arrival to the station. The three were taken into a small holding cell with 15 people in it, Shaygan told Al-Jazeera. Karimi, Shaygan, and Sultani did not sustain any injuries and did not seek medical attention, according to Zaki Daryabi.

Zaki Daryabi told CPJ that Taqi Daryabi and Naqdi were released after approximately four hours in detention, and Karimi, Shaygan, and Sultani were released after approximately three and a half hours in detention, adding that the Taliban returned all of the journalists’ belongings.

Shaygan told Al-Jazeera that a Taliban official warned them that “what these protesters were doing is illegal and by covering such things, you all broke the law. We will let you go this time, but next time you won’t be let out so easily.”

Zaki Daryabi told CPJ that Etilaatroz contacted two senior Taliban officials upon hearing that Taki Daryabi and Naqdi were detained, but has not received a response as of September 9. Etilaatroz seeks to lodge a complaint with Taliban officials, he said.

“This is the first very serious incident involving journalists in Kabul, and if we don’t stand together, much worse things may happen,” Zaki Daryabi told The New York Times.

Also today, Taliban fighters surrounded two journalists with the Los Angeles Times covering a protest in Kabul, lunged for one of the journalists’ cameras, and shoved them toward a local police station, according to the newspaper’s report. A Taliban leader told the journalists that photographing protests was “illegal,” and ordered them to delete any photos, according to that report. The journalists were escorted to their car and were watched until they left, the report said. CPJ was unable to immediately determine the identities of those journalists.

Also today, a local producer with EuroNews was detained and later released by the Taliban, according to the Los Angeles Times and a tweet by the outlet. A colleague of the producer told the Los Angeles Times that three Taliban fighters repeatedly slapped him in the face and confiscated his phone and wallet, which were returned when he was released. CPJ was unable to immediately determine the identity of that producer.

Yesterday at approximately 11:00 a.m., Taliban fighters detained Wahid Ahmadi, a camera operator with the privately owned broadcaster TOLO News, while he was filming the protest near the presidential palace in Kabul, according to a report by his employer and Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of TOLO News TV, who spoke with CPJ via phone.

Taliban fighters confiscated Ahmadi’s camera, handcuffed him, and took him to the Taliban military headquarters in Kabul, according to Najafizada. The Taliban released Ahmadi approximately three hours later after the broadcaster communicated with the Taliban cultural commission, according to Najafizada. The Taliban returned Ahmadi’s camera with the footage of the protests intact, he said.

Also at approximately 11:00 a.m. yesterday, Taliban fighters detained two additional journalists with a local broadcaster reporting on the protest as they approached the presidential palace, according to the journalists, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal by the Taliban.

Taliban fighters shoved the journalists to the ground and used their microphone to beat both of the journalists on their heads, breaking the microphone, they said.

The two were handcuffed and taken to an office of the National Directorate of Security, the journalist said. While in custody, Taliban fighters shoved both the journalists to the ground and beat and kicked the first journalist on his head, shoulders, back, and legs, and the second journalist on his arm, head, chest, and back, they said. They also threatened to beat them with metal and electric tools, they added. Taliban fighters also slapped the first across the face, he said.

The two were released at approximately 1:30 p.m., they said, adding that the Taliban fighters returned their camera but kept its memory card and their microphone. The first journalist visited a hospital and was prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxants, according to the journalist and a copy of the prescription, which CPJ reviewed. The second journalist sustained bruising on his head and a cut on his elbow, but did not seek medical attention, he said.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. yesterday, Taliban fighters also detained Mirzahussain Sadid, a correspondent with Afghan Notes, a project of the U.S.-based content creation agency Fasila, according to a tweet by Afghan Notes and Brian Conley and Mohammad Aliraza, the heads of Afghan Notes, who spoke with CPJ via phone. Conley said that the project would officially launch later this month.

Sadid was filming and taking pictures of demonstrators in Kabul with his phone when Taliban fighters beat him and took him to the previous office of the interior ministry, according to those sources. Conley and Aliraza did not provide additional details of the beating. The Taliban did not return Sadid’s phone that they seized during his arrest, Aliraza said, adding that Sadid was released at around 8:30 p.m. yesterday.

At approximately 1:00 p.m. yesterday, Taliban fighters detained another journalist with an international broadcaster while he was filming the protest with his phone in Zanbaq Square and dragged him into an office of the National Directorate of Security, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal by the Taliban. While in custody, the fighters pointed their guns at the journalist’s head, and threatened that if he published a report about the Taliban, they would shoot him in the head, he said. The journalist was released approximately two hours later, he said, adding that he was not beaten and did not sustain any physical injuries, but was left psychologically shaken. 

Separately, CPJ is investigating a report from The Associated Press that Taliban fighters detained an additional journalist and forced him to rub his nose on the ground and apologize for covering the Kabul protest yesterday before releasing him.

CPJ is also investigating an incident alleged in a tweet by Ezzatullah Mehrdad, a reporter covering Afghanistan for The Washington Post, that Taliban fighters detained Mortaza Samadi, a freelance photographer, while he was covering a protest against the group yesterday in the western Herat city. The Taliban accused him of being a “leader of the protesters and chanting deaths to the Emirate,” according to the tweet. As of today, Samadi remains in the Taliban’s custody, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal by the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson in Afghanistan, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, responded to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app saying he did not have confirmed details of the incidents.

Editor’s note: The number of journalists subjected to violence during their arrests has been updated in the second paragraph. The text in paragraphs five through 10 has been updated with details of the injuries sustained by the Etilaatroz journalists. The 18th paragraph has been updated to reflect the correct position of Conley and Aliraza.