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Afghan journalist detained in Taliban’s continued crackdown on independent media

Taliban fighters. (Department of Defense photo by Lt. j. g. Joe Painter)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Taliban has detained another Afghan journalist in the country’s capital, Kabul, in a continuing crackdown on independent media in Afghanistan.

Media watchdog the Afghanistan Journalist Center (AFJC) said Taliban intelligence officers detained Ehsan Akbari, an Afghan reporter for Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

“The arrest of this journalist shows that the ruling group is trying to suppress the media and freedom of expression,” Samia Walizadeh, the head of the communications and litigation at AFJC, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi on January 22.

The organization says the arrest violates the country’s media law that was crafted by the previous, pro-Western Afghan republic.

After returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban suspended Afghanistan’s constitution and most of the laws adopted over the two decades the militants were out of power. The hard-line Islamist group has issued a vague guideline for journalists, which requires them not to violate Afghan and Islamic values, since it came back to rule.

“We demand his immediate and unconditional release,” the AFJC added in a statement.

The organization has demanded that the Taliban, and in particular its intelligence agency, “should respect the country’s media law and end the process of suppressing journalists and free media.”

Sayed Amir Akbari, a brother of the detained journalist, said that Ehsan Akbari was detained in the government’s media and information center on January 17 after he was called there for questioning.

“The next morning, the Taliban intelligence officers took Ehsan Akbari to the news agency’s office [in Kabul] and took away his laptop and camera,” he told the AFJC.

He added that the militants forced him to call his family to hand over his mobile phone to Taliban officials when they arrived.

As per the Taliban’s practice, the group has neither confirmed nor denied his arrest.

The detention of journalists has started to become more commonplace in Afghanistan.

On January 18, the Taliban detained journalists Jawad Rasouli and Abdul Haq Hamidi. Both worked for a local news agency, Gardesh-e Etilat.

They were released on January 20 after their families handed over an affidavit, which typically guarantees that they would not violate Taliban rules.

The AFJC said the Taliban arrested 61 journalists in 2023. While most were released after weeks or months of detentions, some were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Overall, the AFJC documented 168 cases of violence and intimidation against journalists during the past year, highlighting the extensive censorship the authoritarian rulers are exercising over the media.