The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Tadamichi Yamamoto, in a statement on Thursday, condemned the Taliban’s threat against Afghan media and call for it to be rescinded.
Yamamoto said that freedom of the press is critical and that civilians should never be deliberately targeted with violence.
This week the Taliban publicly threatened to turn media outlets into military targets if they did not stop commercials which the group believes is against their fighters. The group has given Afghan media a one-week deadline to stop the ads.
“I unequivocally condemn this threat and call for it to be rescinded, as words must never be met with violence. The only acceptable challenge to words is to advance a better argument,” he said.
He said that international humanitarian law, which applies to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, prohibits attacks against civilians at any time and in any place.
“Media workers are civilians, and their rights must be protected, especially their fundamental right to operate in an environment free from any threat, intimidation or undue pressure by any outside entity, including governments,” he said.
Yamamoto said that in the context of repeated threats by the Taliban, he is reminded that press freedom in Afghanistan is earned at an unbearable cost. “Many journalists have been killed in Afghanistan in calculated attacks. We cannot but feel indignation at these terrible acts,” he added.
He said that the United Nations recognizes that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, and that they remain steadfast in collaborating with our national and international partners to protect journalists and to fight against impunity.
“Let us respect our collective obligations – regardless of who threatens or subjects journalists to intimidation or violence – to take practical steps to address those forces that menace the media,” he said.
Yamamoto said that the United Nations stands in solidarity with all media workers in Afghanistan.
“We will continue to support the Afghan government, consistent with its international human rights obligations, to implement measures that improve journalist safety and that foster an open media where no voice is silenced through fear,” he concluded.
This is the second time the group is threatening Afghan media. The first time, they threatened few media outlets over their reports on the fall of the city of Kunduz in northern Kunduz province back in 2016.
The group has given a week deadline to the media outlets to stop these advertisements.
The move by the Taliban was faced with immediate criticism by media supporting organizations. However, the Afghan government has not reacted to this issue so far.
Attacks on Afghan Media
In January 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus carrying employees of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most popular private broadcaster, killing seven journalists.
The Taliban had said it bombed the bus because it claimed Tolo was producing propaganda for the US military and its allies.
Journalists in Afghanistan have been threatened or attacked not only by the Taliban but also by fighters from Daesh, government officials and powerful local figures unhappy with news coverage.
The press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 17 shows that the situation of media in Afghanistan has “worsened” as it has descended to 121 from 118 where it stood last year.
The organization has mentioned insecurity as one of the main reasons for an increase in violence against journalists in Afghanistan.
According to RSF, three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
The RSF says that for Afghanistan’s journalists, 2018 was the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
A total of 15 journalists and media workers were killed in a series of bombings that began early in the year, nine of them in a single day, the RSF says in a report on its website.
Many others were constantly threatened by the various parties to the conflict. The war imposed by the Taliban and Daesh and constant abuses by warlords and corrupt political officials constitutes a permanent threat to journalists, the media and press freedom in Afghanistan.
According to RSF, Women journalists are a favorite target and are especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda is heeded.