Taliban Spokesperson Says Court Due to Rule on Media Licenses

The Taliban have said that a court on Thursday is expected to issue a ruling on whether licenses should be revoked for several media outlets.

Abdul Haq Hammad, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture, told Voice of America the move is focused on 10 media outlets and news agencies deemed to be spreading “propaganda and rumors against” the regime.

If the court rules to revoke the licenses, the media outlets will no longer be able to work in the country.

“They will not be able to open their office or have reporters in the country. This will be illegal,” Hammad said.

But Afghan journalists and media associations see the move as an attempt to further curtail press freedom. Conditions for media have deteriorated since the Taliban’s return to power, with news outlets shuttering, and a large number of female journalists leaving the profession.

Hammad did not name the outlets in question but said that they work from outside Afghanistan.

Several organizations moved their operations outside the country after the Taliban took power in August 2021. But many use local staff or freelancers to report on events inside the country.

A person with knowledge of the case, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told VOA the Taliban took a “unilateral decision” in referring the media outlets to the court without first seeking approval from the Media Violation Commission.

The joint media and government body is tasked with investigating media violations and can issue fines to journalists or news outlets.

The unnamed individual told VOA that the Taliban sent a letter to the court saying the Media Violation Commission had referred the case. But, he said, “the commission does not have the authority to revoke licenses.”

Taliban spokesperson Hammad said that the move was based on the media law.

Curbs on media

Journalists and media analysts who spoke with VOA say the Taliban are selective in how they use the media law.

“They implement the law based on their preferences,” Gul Mohammad Graan, president of the Afghan chapter of the South Asian Association of Reporters Club and Journalists Forum, told VOA.

“In practice, they do not care about the law, particularly the media law,” said Graan, adding that the Taliban “impose pressure and restrictions on media outlets that are critical of them.”

Overall, the situation for press freedom in Afghanistan is “concerning,” Graan said.

Media rights groups have said the country’s journalists face violence, censorship and economic hardship.

Figures from the Ministry of Information and Culture, under the Taliban, show 165 radio and 55 TV stations currently in operation. Before their takeover, media watchdogs estimated that Afghanistan had more than 540 media outlets.

Calling for licenses to be revoked is part of “systematic censorship,” Sharif Hassanyar, head of the Norway-based Chashm News Network, said.

“The situation could make the international media cease their operations [in Afghanistan] and create problems for [local] media,” said Hassanyar, who used to be head of Ariana News, one of the country’s largest media groups.

The Taliban have already banned FM broadcasts from VOA and its sister network Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty over claims that their broadcasts had violated local laws.

Ghulam Jelani Zwak, an Afghan journalist who used to be head of Kabul News Television, told VOA the pressure is mounting. “Day by day, restrictions and problems increase [for media],” he said.

Zwak said that the new restrictions signal that the Taliban want to have media under their control.

“They do not want independent media to operate in Afghanistan,” said Zwak.

Waheed Faizi from VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report, which originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.

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