By Pierre Tran
Paris – The prospect of the Taliban exerting a severe grip on Afghan society is fueling fears for the rights of Afghan women, the lives of journalists and press freedom in an affected country.
This grim outlook for independent reporting has led to calls on governments around the world to rally around and help Afghan media workers seeking to leave Afghanistan.
Media groups on August 23 called on governments to take “immediate action” to support media workers, said the International Federation of Journalists, an independent organization based in Brussels.
“A group of media support organizations, including the IFJ, called on the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) of governments to engage and take immediate action to support Afghan media workers,” said IFJ.
On August 19, Taliban insurgents killed a relative of a journalist from Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcaster, as they pursued the editor of DW.
A door-to-door search of the DW reporter led to the murder of the family member, seriously injuring another and forcing other relatives to flee, DW reported. These family members were now on the run.
Toofan Omar, director of Paktia Ghag Radio, a private broadcaster, was targeted and killed by Taliban fighters, while Nematullah Hemat of Gharghasht TV, a private broadcaster, was kidnapped, DW reported.
Afghan memories of an older generation are marked by public stoning and whipping under the Taliban interpretation of Sharia law, when the radical Islamist movement ruled in the 1990s. Since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, a younger generation of Afghans grew up with women working in a large media community.
All of this is about to change.
Women journalists are under serious threat because the Taliban see their gender placing them in a subordinate role. There are reports that insurgents have seized women and girls to make wives, and reports of rape have been reported, UK daily The Guardian reported on August 16.
“In the past 24 hours, our lives have changed and we have been confined to our homes, and death threatens us every moment,” Aaisha, a female journalist, reported the daily.
“We see a silence filled with fear of the Taliban around us,” she said. The journalist’s name has been changed.
In the UK, the government led by Boris Johnson, a former journalist, agreed to lift long visa requirements to bring Afghan media workers to Britain, in response to a call from the National Union of Journalists, broadcasters and newspapers.
More than 200 Afghan journalists and their immediate families will benefit from an expedited evacuation, but there are serious concerns about their transportation to the airport, The Observer reported on August 22. It is also necessary to get more than 80 Afghan nationals who had worked for the British Council outside the country.
The International Federation of Journalists, supported by the NUJ, calls on nation states to help journalists and their families leave the country by granting them visas, safe passage to the airport and securing the airport for flights from ‘evacuation.
The IFJ, which works within the Advisory Network of the Coalition for Media Freedom, calls for an easing of remittances to Afghanistan and urges Afghanistan to respect human rights principles during the special session of the August 24 on Afghanistan from the UN Human Rights Council.
Taliban control the flow of information
“For Afghan journalists who remain in the country, the prospect is that the media will be dominated by the Taliban,” said Gilles Dorronsoro, professor of political science at the University of Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne.
“There will be no multi-party system, the religious rules of Sharia law will apply and there will be public censorship,” he said.
The attempt to evacuate media workers is “chaotic”, which was initially due to the lack of organization in Western countries, he said.
“The CIA delayed the Allied evacuation effort by controlling those seeking to enter Kabul airport through the northern entrance,” he said. “The CIA sought to carry out a security check to prevent terrorists from taking the evacuation flights. This security check was carried out extremely slowly and without consultation with the Western partner countries.
“The evacuation is very fluid and it is difficult to say how many journalists were evacuated by air,” he said.
The United States supported the Afghan media, especially local radio, before NATO’s withdrawal in 2014, he said. After 2014, local media lacked protection against Western countries.
There were physical threats from the bodyguards of then President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban, he said. “Male journalists dominated the Afghan media, with the notable exception of television, in which there were female presenters. “
For Rony Brauman, former head of Médecins Sans Frontières, a non-governmental aid agency, the evacuation is the culmination of a 20-year “isolation bubble” pursued by Western countries.
This prolonged occupation by the West has fostered a structural problem of social, political and military isolation, and the current crisis was “the pride of nation building,” he said.
However, there may have been grounds for hope, he said, as the Taliban needed to take a “collegial” approach to form a new administration. It would require the Taliban leadership to accept that a lot has changed in Afghan society over the past 20 years.
The Taliban will also have to foster relations with international organizations and their neighbors, including Iran, led by Shia Muslims, he said. This could lead the Taliban to take a gentler approach to the Shiite community in Afghanistan.
In 2001, Laura Bush, the then first lady, said in the nation’s weekly radio address that there was a need for support for women and children in Afghanistan.
“The fight against brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it is the acceptance of our common humanity, a commitment shared by people of good will on all continents ”, she declared on November 17, 2001.
Graphic shown: Map of Central Asia with Afghanistan captured by the Taliban. Instead of the flag of Afghanistan, there is a Taliban sign on the outline of the country. Neighbors in northern Afghanistan after the Taliban took the country. Credit: Bigstock