Afghanistan: Governments must help Afghanistan’s human rights defenders
After a week of steady gains by Taliban militants, who captured dozens of cities across Afghanistan in a lightning offensive, the country’s capital of Kabul fell to Taliban control on August 15. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sent a message of solidarity and strength to the country’s media community and urges governments and the international community to provide urgent support and protection to Afghan media workers.
As President Ashraf Ghani fled the country via aircraft, Taliban militants poured into the capital late on August 15, meeting little resistance from security forces and sending the city into chaos as tens of thousands of people attempted to escape via land and air. Thousands of people later swamped the international airport, attempting to flee and thrust the facility into chaos. Two decades after being ousted from power, the Taliban was back in control of the country.
Over the past 90 days, as provinces and districts were seized by Taliban groups, radio networks across the country have also shut down accompanied by violence and threats against media workers. Many media staff fled for fear of losing their lives for working at stations targeted for broadcasting music, supporting female workers and news reporters. Any stations left operating are understood to be now following the instructions of the Taliban.
IFJ affiliate, the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) said that 18 of the country’s 34 provinces were now “under strong influence of Taliban” and “almost all of the workers and activists have left their homes and escaped”. It said at least 140 media outlets were now “disabled” in the provinces of Herat, Badghis, Ghor, Uruzgan, Zabul, nimroz, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Sare Pul, Takhar, Samangan, Farah, Baghlan, Badakshan, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Logar and Wardak. Over 1,200 journalists and media workers have lost their jobs, with many more under threat.
Across the country, journalists now face continuing serious threats because of their work, particularly those who have made high-profile reports with war lords or high-ranking officials. Women media workers remain a critical concern. In recent months, hundreds of women media workers have been forced to flee the country, been banned from working or even subjected to targeted murderous attacks. Since the beginning of 2021, at least 30 media workers have been killed, wounded or tortured in the country.
The IFJ said: “All media professionals covering the situation in Afghanistan are currently risking their lives and remain a grave concern. The IFJ and journalists around the world are sending the messages of solidarity and support in the uncertain and devastating days, weeks and months ahead.”
In 20 years, Afghanistan’s expansion of freedom of expression, journalism and media development had been one of its biggest achievements. At the same time, hundreds of national and international journalists lost their lives in the course of carrying out their professional duties.
The AIJA said: “We are really thankful to the international communities that they have been providing all these assistances to Afghanistan journalism community.”
The IFJ is working urgently with its affiliates, the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) and Afghanistan’s National Journalists Union (ANJU), to provide emergency support to help journalists take protective measures and seek safety.
IFJ and its affiliates are also lobbying governments in a number of countries to provide emergency visas and logistical support to enable those most at threat to leave the country. Affiliates in neighbouring countries are working to develop avenues of support and ensure safe passage for journalists forced to leave the country.
The US government has already made journalists eligible for a visa program that could allow them to leave the country but most are yet to be evacuated.
The acting interim chief executive of the US Agency for Global Media, which oversees broadcasters, said in an email on August 15 that the agency was “doing everything in our power to protect” journalists and “will not back down in our mission to inform, engage, and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.”
The IFJ has established a special Afghanistan Solidarity Fund within the IFJ Safety Fund to channel further support and urge those who can donate. All funds raised will go directly to providing support to Afghan colleagues.
The IFJ said: “The unravelling humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deeply devastating and the IFJ extends solidarity to journalists, media workers and activists who have bravely conducted their work throughout the conflict. The IFJ calls on Taliban leaders to exercise restraint and stand by their word that media workers will not be targeted.”
The IFJ also said: “After 20 years of international intervention in Afghanistan, the global community has a duty to acknowledge the vital work of journalists, media workers and other human rights defenders, but also to do the utmost to protect them for that professionalism and sacrifice at tremendous personal risk. The IFJ urges governments around the world to act and provide support to media workers in Afghanistan and those who have fled to ensure they are safe.”
Image -A US military helicopter is pictured flying above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. Credit: Wakil KOHSAR / AFP