New York, August 9, 2022 – Taliban authorities should cease their attacks on the press and ensure that those who harass and assault journalists are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On August 4, armed Taliban members attacked and detained a team with the independent Indian broadcaster WION News, including reporter Anas Mallick, producer Zakaria (who uses one name), and driver Mayel Kharoti, according to WION News and Mallick, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
The team was filming the aftermath of a U.S. drone strike that killed Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, in Kabul, from inside their vehicle when Taliban members stopped them, confiscated Mallick’s phones, and pulled the team out of their vehicle, where they punched them in the head and back, according to those sources.
The men took the team to a nearby Taliban post in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, where they were questioned about their work and religion; the three were later transferred to the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence, according to Mallick and that report.
Authorities accused Mallick, who is a Pakistani national, of being a spy, and held him overnight before releasing him without charge, he said, adding that his colleagues were released, also without charge, on August 7.
“The Taliban’s harassment of a team with the Indian broadcaster WION News, including Pakistani reporter Anas Mallick and his Afghan colleagues Zakaria and Mayel Kharoti, demonstrates yet again that they have no respect for the profession of journalism,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg. “Taliban members and the General Directorate of Intelligence must permit local and international journalists to work freely.”
While in custody at the Taliban facility in Wazir Akbar Khan, officers examined Mallick’s phone and asked why he filmed the scene of the drone strike, he said. The officers also accused him of being a Christian or a Hindu, and when he said he was a Muslim, they called him a spy, the journalist told CPJ.
Mallick said he insisted he was a journalist, and when he told the Taliban members to check that he had recently interviewed Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, they replied that they did not know who Muttaqi was.
After about 90 minutes in custody, General Directorate of Intelligence officers blindfolded and handcuffed Mallick, Zakaria, and Kharoti, and brought them separately to a GDI office in Kabul, Mallick told CPJ.
There, a GDI officer questioned Mallick about his personal and professional life, the contents of his cellphone, and his travel history in Afghanistan, he said.
GDI agents variously interrogated Mallick in Pashto and English, Mallick told CPJ. He said agents first accused him of being a member of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency; when they learned he worked for an Indian broadcaster, they accused him of being a member of India’s RAW intelligence agency; and when they saw a picture on Mallick’s phone showing him in front of the U.S. Capitol, they accused him of working for the CIA.
At one point during his detention, two Taliban agents came into Mallick’s interrogation room and attached a battery with wires to his left ear, the journalist told CPJ; he said they were laughing, and set up the battery to pretend as if they would electrocute him.
Mallick said the GDI officers later brought him to a cell that had one Afghan prisoner and several surveillance cameras. He was held in that room for about eight hours, and then on the morning of August 5 he was released without any explanation or charge filed against him, he told CPJ. He said he had spent a total of about 21 hours in detention, during which his family and employer had no information about his status. He added that he did not know exactly where he was held while in GDI custody.
He said that Zakaria and Kharoti were both released on August 7.
Mallick told CPJ that he experienced medical issues after the August 4 beating, saying that he had a fluid imbalance where he was hit in the ribs, and had bruises on his neck, back, and ear. Zakaria sustained bruising on his left side and across his back, and Kharoti also had back injuries, as seen in images of their wounds shared with CPJ.
CPJ contacted Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, for comment via messaging app but did not receive any response.