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Will the Taliban respect press freedom? Here’s what analysts say

by Umamah Bakharia


KABUL – The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has caused a wave of fear and uncertainty amongst people in the country. A lack of uncertainty has stemmed from the credibility of news reporting on the incidents occurring.

Amongst the concerns raised upon the return of the Taliban is that of press freedom. However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that “no threat or reprisal will be carried out against journalists” under the new Taliban regime.

“We will respect freedom of the press, because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” Mujahid said. “Through this statement to RSF, we declare to the world that we recognise the importance of the role of the media.”


Recent ‘interference’

This comes after members of the Taliban forced at least two female journalists to leave their jobs at the public broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan, and have attacked at least two members of the press during their coverage of a protest in the eastern Nangarhar province, according to news reports and journalists who spoke with the Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“Stripping public media of prominent women news presenters is an ominous sign that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have no intention of living up their promise of respecting women’s rights, in the media or elsewhere,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.


“The Taliban should let women news anchors return to work, and allow all journalists to work safely and without interference,” he said.

“The statement is a counter narrative to some of the responses to within the Muslim community. Some Muslims appear determined to excuse the Taliban’s record of abuse and the rights of women, children and the minority,” said Ayesha Kajee,a political analyst.


Why are people concerned?

Kajee believes that, given the Taliban’s history in Afghanistan, people are concerned because they feel very strongly that the version of so called “Islamic law” that the Taliban has been using is “a very patriarchal one that essentially places into misogynistic stereotype culture and that is not congruent with prophetic examples.


Women asked to stay at home, for now

‘Reporters Without Borders’ asked Mujahid about the fate of women journalists, to which he said: “Afghan society is Muslim, as you know. In order to establish religious rules and edicts, we have had many deaths. Women journalists are also Muslim. We will, of course, establish a legal framework for questions of clothing – the use of the Hijab – and so that women are not bothered in the street and at their place of work.


“But, until these written provisions are enacted, I ask them to stay at home, without stress and without fear. I assure them they will go back to their jobs,” Mujahid added.

“The Taliban have made it seem that all Muslim women in the world are oppressed and require saviors, but we believe that our beautiful Deen liberated us centuries ago,” said Kajee.

She adds: “If there is no independent media then we will not have any way of verifying what is happening in Afghanistan and that is not congruent with Islam.”

According to Kajee, the upper leadership of the Taliban’s message on press freedom has not gotten through yet to the ground level soldier that is why there has been coverage of abuses being done by the Taliban.

“I am not saying this in the defense of the Taliban, I am saying that we need to hold them into account as we know what their past has been and we hope the future will be different.”

She asks ‘whose version of Shar’iah law should be followed?’ if the Quran states something and the Taliban says another.


Julie Alli spoke to Ayesha Kajee, a political analyst, on News & Views about press freedom and women’s rights in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Watch the full discussion here:

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