The Reporters Without Borders, or the RSF, in a letter to the United Nations rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, called for urgent action to defend journalists and press freedom in Afghanistan, “where arbitrary arrests are on the rise and a climate of fear has taken hold in all media outlets.”
Richard Bennett was appointed as UN rapporteur on human rights situation in Afghanistan by the UN Human Rights Council on March 27.
The RSF said in a statement that the letter draws Bennett’s attention that despite the Ministry of Information and Culture announced that the mass media law of 2015 was still in effect in Afghanistan, the status of freedom of press has become “worsened dramatically” as journalists are “being arrested arbitrarily and that new restrictions have been imposed on them and media outlets.”
The RSF also underscored the new imposed based on a decree of March 28 which is banning privately-owned TV channels from retransmitting news programs provided by international broadcast like BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle – in local languages (Dari, Pashto and Uzbek).
The statement said that when RSF contacted a ministry spokesman, he blamed the ban on “the problem of the attire worn by these media’s women presenters, after several warnings.”
The statement expressed concerns over the "harassment of journalists," saying that the new restriction especially since the start of 2022, causing widespread alarm within the media.
According to the RSF, at least 50 media workers were arrested by the Afghan forces and intelligence services from 15 August 2021 and 4 February 2022.
Meanwhile, Islamic Emirate officials said efforts are underway to form the Commission of Media Violations, which is aimed at addressing the media community's problems.
“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the press freedom within an Islamic structure. We have a meeting the ministry (of information and culture) today to pave the ground for better improvement of the media and to form the commission of media violation,” said Abdul Haq Humad, head of media office of the Ministry of Information and Culture.
As the Islamic Emirate “continues to arrest journalists and step up pressure on the media, the press freedom situation in Afghanistan must not pass under the radar of the international community’s attention,” RSF advocacy and assistance director Antoine Bernard was quoted in the statement.
“From the new UN special rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, we expect the maximum possible involvement in support of free, pluralist and independent journalism,” he added.
The statement also highlighted the events of the arrests of some Afghan journalist and media worker.
"Khpolwak Sapai, the head of the TOLONews TV channel, Bahram Aman, a journalist who is one of its presenters, and a media lawyer were arbitrarily arrested by armed intelligence agents at TOLONews headquarters in Kabul on 17 March for reporting that restrictions were being placed on the broadcasting of foreign TV series. Sapai and the lawyer were released a few hours later, after a heavy-handed interrogation, but Aman was held for almost 24 hours,” the statement reads.