Taliban release three detained Afghan journalists
Kabul, Mar 19: Afghanistan's governing Taliban has released three arrested TOLONews employees, the company said Friday. TOLO, an independent news channel, is the country's largest TV station.
Director Khpalwak Sapai, legal advisor Nafay Khaleeq and newscaster Bahram Aman were all arrested at the network's studios Thursday evening. Sapai told news outlets that he and Khaleeq were released shortly after their detention but that Aman was kept in custody overnight and let go on Friday.
"After almost 24 hours I have been released from prison. I will always be the voice of the people," wrote Aman on his Facebook page Friday, confirming his release before appearing live on TOLONews.
The Taliban's intelligence services published a statement following Aman's release: "We will not allow anyone to trample our Islamic and national values ... that threaten the security of our people and our nation."
Taliban prohibit broadcast of non-Islamic programming
TOLONews owner Moby Group said the three had been detained for reporting on a government decision to ban the broadcast of foreign soap operas and drama series in Afghanistan. The ban was reportedly put forth by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Since returning to power last August, the Taliban have successively cracked down on journalists and broadcasters. Rules prohibiting the broadcast of soaps with non-Islamic themes were put in place immediately, though these have been loosely enforced to date.
Thursday's arrests prompted condemnation from both the UN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-governmental organization (NGO).
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) wrote on Twitter: "Time for the Taliban to stop gagging & banning. Time for a constructive dialogue with the Afghan media community."
The UNAMA also voiced, "deep concern about the detentions of journalists and the ever increasing restrictions being placed on media in Afghanistan" and urged "the release of all those taken away by gunmen and an end to the intimidation and threats against journalists and independent media."
"The Taliban must immediately ... stop detaining and intimidating members of the Afghanistan press corps," said the CPJ in a statement.
A kinder, gentler Taliban?
Though purporting to seek a softer approach to media, which was largely banned as immoral under the previous Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the new government has nevertheless continued to crack down on journalists and rights activists, especially women — who, incidentally, make up the majority of journalists working at TOLONews.
In a December 2021 report, the organizations Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association (AIJA) found that 231 of Afghanistan's 543 media outlets had been shuttered in the months following the Taliban's return to power. The report says more than 6,400 journalists lost their jobs in that time.