Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 9, 2022. (Ali Khara/Reuters)

Taliban intelligence agents detain, pressure Afghan journalist Jebran Lawrand to stop critical reporting

Washington D.C., May 23, 2022 – Taliban authorities must investigate the arbitrary detention, questioning, and intimidation of Afghan journalist Jebran Lawrand and allow local press members to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On April 25, Lawrand, a political programs manager and presenter at the independent Kabul News TV station, was summoned to the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI), where he was detained, cursed at, and questioned for over two hours, according to the journalist, who posted about the incident on Facebook and talked to CPJ by phone, two activists with knowledge of the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of Taliban reprisal, news reports, and tweets by a former government official.

The activists told CPJ that the Taliban intelligence agents warned Lawrand that his TV shows shouldn’t criticize the Taliban and that he must not invite critical analysts to appear. The agents also reportedly warned that no one should know about the journalist’s detention and questioning or he would face graver consequences and called him an infidel, evil, atheist, and pig before releasing him.

“Taliban authorities must tell its General Directorate of Intelligence to stop detaining and using intimidation tactics against journalists like Jebran Lawrand,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The Taliban needs to return to their original commitment to tolerate an independent media and must learn to accept criticism without taking retaliatory action.”   

Lawrand was summoned and detained a day after a Facebook post about his April 24, 2022 show, during which he disagreed with a Taliban supporter.

The journalist and the activists told CPJ that on April 25, while Lawrand was on his way home, several Taliban intelligence operatives from the counter-terrorism directorate told him that he wouldn’t face any further detention because of the April 24 show but could face future arrest or imprisonment if he continued to report the way he did.  

On April 27, Lawrand resigned from his job after 15 years as a journalist and has been in hiding since his detention, according to the activists. The activists said he continues to receive anonymous threats from unknown telephone numbers.

CPJ contacted Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, for comment via messaging app but did not receive any response. CPJ has documented the increasingly prominent role of the GDI in controlling news media and intimidating journalists in Afghanistan.

CPJ is also investigating the alleged expulsion of Marjan Wafa, the only female journalist in Herat city, from a press conference by local Taliban officials on May 20, 2022.