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Reporters Without Borders warning of Taliban abuses

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News anchor Beheshta Arghand was the first woman allowed to conduct a TV interview with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Days later, like many of her colleagues at ToloNews, she fled the country in fear for her life. (Screencap: Tolonews)

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Soon after the US withdrew from Afghanistan in entirety, Reporters Without Borders reported that less than 100 female journalists are still operating in the Asian country. 

Prior to the Taliban taking over in 2020, the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists reported that Kabul had 198 media outlets with a total of 4,940 employees, of which 1,080 of them were women and 700 of whom were journalists. 

Of the 510 women who used to work for Afghanistan’s biggest media outlets, only 76 of them (of which 39 are journalists) are still working.

Pajhwok reporter Nahid Bashardost was beaten while doing a report near the Kabul Airport during the withdrawal. Other Afghan female journalists told Reporters Without Borders how the Taliban had stationed guards outside their media outlets to prevent them from covering stories. 

According to RWB, women working from the studio were not tolerated any better than journalists out in the field. A woman working for a radio station in Gazni said that two days after the Taliban took control of her province, they visited her radio station and warned: “You are a privately-owned radio station. You can continue, but without any woman’s voice and without music.”

In a press release, the organization “calls on the Taliban to provide immediate guarantees for the freedom and safety of women journalists in Afghanistan, where, despite Taliban assurances that press freedom would be respected and women journalists would be allowed to keep working, a new media landscape is emerging from which they are missing.”

“Taliban respect for the fundamental right of women, including women journalists, to work and to practice their profession is a key issue,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire said. “Women journalists must be able to resume working without being harassed as soon as possible, because it is their most basic right, because it is essential for their livelihood, and also because their absence from the media landscape would have the effect of silencing all Afghan women. We urge the Taliban leadership to provide immediate guarantees for the freedom and safety of women journalists.”

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At an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet stated, “A fundamental red line will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms.”

Formerly a 2-term President of Chile, she told the meeting she had received credible information about “summary executions” of civilians and of surrendering Afghan forces. “Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic and religious minorities are also at risk of violence and repression, given previous patterns of serious violations under Taliban rule and reports of killings and targeted attacks in recent months,” she said.

Some delegates were urging a fact-finding mission with UN workers deployed to investigate be initiated. Bachelet is to report back to the fall session of the Council with further details of violations by the Taliban and is to deliver a written report in March 2022.

Following these developments, Shipan Kumer Basu, who heads the World Hindu Struggle Committee, condemned how the Taliban has persecuted female journalists. 

He stressed that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a major mistake and that it has strained America’s relationship with some of its allies including the United Kingdom:

“Meanwhile, the Taliban continues its brutal activities like using water cannons to prevent Afghans from entering the airport.  Natives are being trapped in a situation, where they lack food, money, work, security, and other basic human rights.  The entire nation is suffering as essential items like wheat, oil, petrol, etc. have gone up by 15-25% over the last month.”  He called upon the international community to act and help Afghan female journalists. 

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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