By Maryam Mursal
When Afghanistan’s third largest city, Herat, fell to the Taliban on August 12, Sahar, 20, was busy at work, where she was a radio anchor. She fled her office wondering how to get home as the fighting had already begun inside the city.
“Should I get a taxi or a bus? Which one is safer?” She remembers thinking outside of her office.
“I finally got a rickshaw because its driver was an old man… I thought it was safer to ride with an old driver in case we are caught in the fighting,” said Sahar, who only gave her first name out of security concerns.
“I didn’t say goodbye to my colleagues because I didn’t know it was my last day at work,” Sahar said, adding that all her female colleagues are either sitting at home or have fled the country.
On August 17, in their first press conference in Kabul since 2001, the Taliban promised to respect women’s rights and press freedom.
“We will allow women to work and study,” said the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid. “Women are going to be active in the society but within the framework of Islam.”
However two months have passed since the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, and there are no women journalists in radio or TV working in the western provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis and Ghor, according to a Rukhshana Media investigation.
“Women journalists are in the process of disappearing from the capital,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned in a report on August 31.
“Of the 510 women who used to work for eight of the biggest media outlets and press groups [in Kabul], only 76 (including 39 journalists) are still currently working,” the RSF report said.
Sahar explains that women journalists are unable to continue their work because of the Taliban’s restrictions. “Since I left the office on Thursday, August 12, no one has contacted me to return to work,” she said. “This is also true for other women journalists I know.”
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan they have severely restricted media and freedom of speech in Afghanistan. A Human Rights Watch report released on October 1 expressed concern over the Taliban’s “media regulations” in which they required journalists and media not to produce content “contrary to Islam” and not to report on “matters that have not been confirmed by officials.”
“Journalists or media that critique the Taliban are at risk of imprisonment,” said Siddiq Mehri, a local journalist in Badghis province. “No journalist dares to criticize them.”
Tolonews, an Afghan TV network, reported on September 13 that at least 153 media outlets ceased their operation in 20 provinces since the Taliban returned to power.
Rahim Fani, a journalist in Herat province describes the situation as the “death of media and journalists” in Afghanistan, explaining that his colleagues either left the country or the profession.
Ghor is one of the provinces in which media and journalists are particularly marginalized. In the entire province, the only media outlets still running are two local radio stations and the state-run Afghanistan’s National Television, according to some media activists in the province.
Access to information has been limited since not all officials are allowed to speak to the media. For instance, in Herat province, only two officials, the Taliban’s deputy governor and the Taliban’s director of information and culture, are allowed to speak to the media.
The Taliban have beaten, arrested and tortured journalists, mainly for covering women’s protests since they returned to power in mid-August.