Taliban fighters are seen in Khost, Afghanistan, on August 14, 2023. Authorities recently detained two journalists and banned women's voices from being featured on broadcasts in Helmand province. (AP/Saifullah Zahir)

Taliban authorities detain 2 journalists, ban women’s voices from broadcasts in Helmand

New York, August 15, 2023 — Taliban authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Ataullah Omar, stop harassing members of the press, and drop all restrictions on women’s ability to work in the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Sunday, August 13, Taliban intelligence agents summoned Omar, a journalist at the independent broadcaster TOLO News, to the intelligence service’s provincial headquarters in Kandahar and detained him, according to his employer, the local Afghanistan Journalists’ Center nonprofit, and a local journalist familiar with the situation who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation by the Taliban. Authorities accused him of working with media outlets operating from exile.

CPJ could not immediately determine Omar’s whereabouts as of Tuesday evening.

Also on Sunday, intelligence agents detained freelance journalist Wahidurahman Afghanmal outside the Kandahar Press Club, and questioned him about his work and whether he had worked for exiled media groups, according to the journalists’ center and another local journalist who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, fearing Taliban reprisal. Authorities released Afghanmal on bail Monday evening.

Separately, the Taliban Directorate of Information and Culture in Helmand province recently announced that it had banned women’s voices from being featured in commercials or any other programs aired by the province’s media outlets, according to a journalist in Helmand who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, and the U.S. Congress-funded outlet Radio Azadi. The ban went into effect on July 21, according to those sources.

Officials have threatened to revoke outlets’ licenses and shut down their operations if they air women’s voices, the journalist said.

“The detention of Afghan journalists Ataullah Omar and Wahidurahman Afghanmal, as well as the latest discriminatory policy against women being featured in broadcasts in Helmand province, show there is no let-up in the Taliban’s repression after two years in power,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Kuala Lumpur. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all detained journalists and allow the media to report freely.”

Last week, authorities detained three other journalists over their alleged links to media outlets operating from exile.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told CPJ via messaging app that journalists have not been targeted for their work but had been detained “to be given guidance on certain issues and will be released afterwards.” He did not specify the reason for Omar’s detention.

Since the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Taliban’s repression of the Afghan media has worsened. On the second anniversary of the group’s return to power, CPJ called on the Taliban to stop its relentless campaign of intimidation and abide by its promise to protect journalists in Afghanistan.