The Sentinel-Record

Taliban threaten Afghan press

Warning over ‘one-sided news’ draws U.S., U.K. rebukes

- KATHY GANNON AND TAMEEM AKHGAR Informatio­n for this article was contribute­d by Nomaan Merchant and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.

KABUL, Afghanista­n — The Taliban on Wednesday issued a threat to Afghan journalist­s they accuse of siding with Afghanista­n’s intelligen­ce agency in Kabul, a warning aired as U.S. troops begin to pull out and fears of more violence rise.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned those Afghan journalist­s who give “one-sided news in support of Afghanista­n’s intelligen­ce” service to stop or “face the consequenc­es.”

The U.S. and Britain responded, with their embassies in Kabul quickly condemning the Taliban threat just two days after World Press Freedom Day.

“We strongly support Afghanista­n’s independen­t media,” tweeted Ross Wilson, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Kabul. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the on-going violence and threats against the media, and the Taliban’s attempts to silence journalist­s.”

Afghanista­n is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalist­s have been killed in Afghanista­n, according to UNESCO.

Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanista­n. The Islamic State has claimed responsibi­lity for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalist­s have been women.

The government blames a resurgent Taliban — who now control or hold sway over half the country — for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile, claim the Afghan intelligen­ce service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.

Earlier this week, Amnesty Internatio­nal decried the spiraling violence against journalist­s in Afghanista­n and the impunity of the culprits carrying out the attacks.

“Nearly all the killings, invariably carried out by unidentifi­ed gunmen, have gone uninvestig­ated,” Amnesty said. “Dozens of others have been injured, while journalist­s routinely receive threats, intimidati­on and harassment because of their work. Faced with this dire situation and with multiple journalist ‘hit lists’ in open circulatio­n, many journalist­s are fleeing the country.”

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligen­ce agencies are warning that any gains in women’s rights in Afghanista­n

made in the last two decades will be at risk after U.S. troops withdraw.

An unclassifi­ed report released Tuesday by the director of National Intelligen­ce says the Taliban remain “broadly consistent in its restrictiv­e approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades’ progress if the group regained national power.”

It’s the latest U.S. warning of the consequenc­es of the Afghan withdrawal now underway. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that there would possibly be “some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes” for Afghan forces left on their own to counter the Taliban, but also noted, “We frankly don’t know yet.” And CIA Director William Burns told Congress in April that the American ability “to collect and act on threats will diminish.”

President Joe Biden has set a September deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw. While Biden and his top officials have stressed that they will not end their engagement with Afghanista­n or advocacy for human rights, the U.S. has also openly warned of gains for the Taliban.

During the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, women were largely confined to their homes, and girls had no access to education. Despite protestati­ons from the U.S. and Europe, the Taliban brutally enforced its extreme version of Islamic Sharia law with little consequenc­e. It was only after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the group that had hosted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network that democratic governance and respect for human rights in Afghanista­n became a Western priority.

While Afghanista­n remains one of the world’s worst countries for women, particular­ly in rural areas where little has changed in generation­s, Afghan women now serve in Parliament, go to school and run businesses.

But there are persistent fears that women will be stripped of rights or once again be forced to wear the burqa, the all-encompassi­ng veils that became a symbol of Taliban rule.

The Taliban last month issued a statement promising that women could “serve their society in the education, business, health and social fields while maintainin­g correct Islamic hijab,” referring to the Arabic word for veil.

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