Taliban’s return ‘a catastrophe’ for journalism in Afghanistan

Journalism in Afghanistan is in danger of disappearing, according to the head of the International Federation of Journalists, who said that reporters trying to continue working under the Taliban have been subjected to beatings and imprisonment.

“The Taliban don’t want to make too many waves right now, but they will want to take control of everything, including the foreign press in Afganistán,” Anthony Bellanger, the IFJ secretary general, told the Guardian. “And as often happens in such situations, foreign journalists will be considered agents of foreign governments.

“I believe what we will see emerge is an official media – a Taliban media – and no women. All other journalists will just disappear. It wasn’t easy before – and even before the Taliban took power, journalists were killed – but it is very bleak now.

“It’s a question of weeks before it changes. I am pessimistic – I will be glad to be proved wrong, but the Taliban is still the Taliban. They announced an inclusive government and what did we get – no women. It’s a catastrophe.”

IFJ representatives are in close contact with colleagues in Afghanistan and believe about 1,300 journalists remain in the country, of which about 220 are women, most of them in Kabul. The IFJ is affiliated with Afghanistan’s National Journalists’ Union and the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association.

Bellanger believes there is currently a “grace” period before the Taliban cracks down on international and Afghan journalists.

“It is now completely impossible for female journalists to work. The rest are doing a very difficult job and are doing what they can. We have photographs of journalists who have been imprisoned and beaten, so the situation for them is very difficult and dangerous," él dijo.

The United Nations human rights body, the UN high commissioner for human rights, warned last week of a ‘growing resort by the Taliban to force against those involved in or reporting on’ demonstrations.

The IFJ, representing 600,000 journalists worldwide, said it was still trying to evacuate journalists from Kabul.

But Bellanger said: “It’s not about getting all journalists out. We cannot do that and we wouldn’t want to, because if nobody is reporting on what is happening then it happens in the dark. There will be journalists who want to stay and do their job, but the future is black for them.”

Bellanger said the IFJ had already collected €40,000 (£35,000) in donations from affiliated media unions, many of them in the UK, to help Afghan colleagues.

“We raised this in just three weeks, so I would like to thank people for their generosity. There has been a unique wave of solidarity on this. We are continuing the international campaign for donations.

“The most pressing problem is how to help our colleagues there. Some have lost their homes, others their jobs. Some have been injured and most of the doctors have left. Most people in the higher, professional echelons of society have left the country.

“On Monday we will begin sending money to journalists in Kabul who need it. Every euro will be accounted for and we will be verifying that it is going to journalists and their families.

“Now we are asking governments to offer a new humanitarian visa for journalists whose lives are in danger and who need to leave.”

He said Afghan journalists had already been evacuated to Qatar, North Macedonia, Francia, el Reino Unido, Canadá, los Estados Unidos, Australia and Belgium, but some countries, including Greece and the Netherlands, had not issued emergency visas.

“My worry is that in a few days, a few weeks, the news agenda will have moved on and the media will forget Afghanistan,” Bellanger said. “For the journalists who remain, I fear they will find either they can choose not to do journalism – or to do journalism for the Taliban.”

Él agregó: “It is stupid and naive to think we can talk to the Taliban about this. There are journalists who want to stay because their life is in Afghanistan.

“We will try to take out those in great danger and those who have already had death threats, but we want to leave as many as possible on the ground so we can have information. It’s these kind of moments when people realise how much we need journalists.”

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