Empty chairs are seen at a planned event by the Afghanistan Journalists Federation, which was cancelled after the arrival of 60 armed police officers and intelligence agents. (Photo: Salam Watandar Radio)

Taliban blocks press conference by Afghanistan Journalists Federation

New York, January 27, 2022 — The Taliban must allow journalists and press groups to work freely and without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Wednesday, about 60 armed members of the Taliban-controlled Kabul police and the General Directorate of Intelligence, the Taliban’s intelligence agency, blocked a planned press conference by the Afghanistan Journalists Federation in the capital’s District 4, according to news reports, a report by the local press freedom group Free Speech Hub, and Sayed Ali Asghar Akbarzadeh, a member of the federation’s leadership committee, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

The Afghanistan Journalists Federation, a collective comprised of 13 press freedom and media groups, had scheduled a conference by 11 of its representatives at a home office in Kabul to discuss the media’s status under the Taliban, according to Akbarzadeh.

Before the conference could begin, dozens of armed men entered the home where the conference was to be held, identified themselves as members of the police and the GDI, and initially said they were there to ensure security for the conference.

One of the armed men then questioned attendees on their motives for the press conference, and threatened retaliation if such events were held without Taliban permission, Akbarzadeh said.

Another of the men, who did not give his name or position, then ordered the conference be cancelled, according to a journalist who was at the scene and spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation. The journalist said they believed the man was a member of the GDI.

“Taliban authorities need to ensure that police and intelligence agents do not interfere with the operation of media and press freedom organizations,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The shrinkage of Afghanistan’s once thriving media industry is a tragedy for the country. The Taliban must take action immediately to reverse this trend.”

The police and intelligence agents briefly detained three journalists who planned to cover the conference, according to Free Speech Hub, which identified those reporters as Masoor Lutfi, Fardin Attai, and Zarif Karimi. CPJ was unable to immediately determine those journalists’ affiliated outlets.

The police and GDI agents briefly held the three journalists in GDI vehicles at the scene, and then released them without charge, according to Free Speech Hub.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, a Taliban deputy spokesperson in Afghanistan, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.