San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

U.N. assails Taliban crackdown on activists, reporters

- By Kathy Gannon Kathy Gannon is an Associated Press writer.

KABUL — The United Nations has sounded the alarm over Taliban crackdowns on peaceful protests, many of them by women demanding equal rights, and journalist­s covering such events.

In one case, two Afghan video journalist­s were beaten with iron rods.

Tagi Daryabi said he and a colleague were covering a protest earlier this week by women demanding their rights from Afghanista­n’s new Taliban rulers. Taliban fighters stopped the two journalist­s, bound their hands and dragged them away to a police station in Kabul.

The photograph­er told the Associated Press that the first thing he heard in the station were screams from a nearby room. Several fighters then began beating him and his colleague, Neamatulla­h Naqdi.

“I couldn’t think. I didn’t know if I would be killed or if I would live,” he said, his face and body still bearing the scars.

“We call on the Taliban to immediatel­y cease the use of force toward, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalist­s covering the protests,” the office of the U.N. High Commission­er for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.

It said reports point to an increasing use of force by the Taliban “against those involved in or reporting on the demonstrat­ions.”

Daryabi and Naqdi work for the small, privately owned Etilaat Roz newspaper, which also broadcasts video news on a YouTube channel.

In the chaotic days following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15, thousands of people, including women and young journalist­s, rushed to the Kabul airport desperate to escape the militants’ rule.

In the weeks since, women have held multiple protests for their rights, almost all of them broken up violently by Taliban fighters. Two men were killed last week when Taliban militants opened fire on a women’s rights protest in the western city of Herat. Journalist­s have been harassed at the rallies, including another cameramen who was beaten.

Daryabi’s newspaper and other media companies say it’s not clear whether the heavy handedness of some local police commanders is sanctioned by the Taliban’s media wing. That office has shown a more engaging side, welcoming foreign journalist­s and allowing some women presenters to remain on the air at the country’s most popular TV station, TOLO TV.

“My own feeling is that there seems to be a disconnect between the leadership and ... the rank-and-file type commanders, who are doing this on the ground,” said Saad Mohsini, executive director of Moby Media Group, which owns TOLO TV.

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