Afghan journalists doubt Taliban free press pledge

Women’s rights and free speech have been hard-fought gains in Afghanistan over the last two decades of war.

When last in power in 2001, the Taliban had barred women from holding jobs, but in what would have been unthinkable back then, a female journalist interviewed a Taliban spokesperson earlier this week after the group secured power in the capital, Kabul.

In their first press conference since capturing the city, the Islamist militant movement said Tuesday it would allow free media and jobs for women, but some journalists aren’t convinced.

Saad Mohseni, who heads the largest private broadcaster in Afghanistan, told Reuters on Thursday it’s too early to tell what the Tablian’s policies will be.

“The sort of laissez-faire approach is more a reflection of not having enough bandwidth for a specific policy that they would allow media to carry on business as usual, as they have been over the last two decades. So I wouldn't get too excited. It's only been like, you know, seventy-two hours, I mean, it's since they took over the city. Their senior officials are just arriving in Kabul, you know, like now."

A Tablian spokesperson said on Tuesday that media must not work against Islamic values and that women could work “within the framework of Islam.”

"It's interesting that when some of them are interviewed they refuse to look at the woman, they look at the camera person. So they do it, but they do it in a way that you know, you can see that they're uncomfortable. Whereas the guy in the studio the other day was sort of a, one of their senior outreach communications persons was quite comfortable looking at the, at the presenter."

Media watchdogs have reported incidents this week of Afghan journalists being beaten, harassed or raided at their homes.

In one example, a presenter on state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan, Sahar Nasari, wrote on Facebook that members of the Taliban took his camera and beat up his colleague while he was trying to film a story in Kabul.

He said, "It has become clear there is a gap between action and words."

A Taliban spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on accusations that it has harassed journalists, and particularly women in the profession.

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