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The images of two Afghan journalists tortured by the Taliban for covering a protest have set off alarm bells in Afghanistan, which since it fell into Islamist hands on August 15 has seen an increase in arrests and attacks on reporters, threatening the fragile freedom of the press.
Detained, tortured, whipped, or sent with broken bones to hospital, the situation of the press under the new Taliban regime is beginning to reveal the dangerous future towards which the country is moving.
Although they have maintained a relatively cordial relationship with the international press, amid attempts to project an image of change, the violence and brutality with which they are repressing Afghan journalists tells a different story.
This week, on one of the days with one of the biggest crackdowns on the press, dozens of reporters covered a protest by thousands of civilians in Kabul in favor of the opposition movement in Panjshir province and against Pakistan’s alleged support for the Taliban.
During that day at least 14 press workers were beaten and arrested by Islamist forces, who released them with an order not to cover another “illegal” protest.
One of the victims was a reporter from a local news channel, who had been assigned to cover the demonstration near the presidential palace in Kabul. That day the protest was broken up by about a hundred armed Taliban who came firing in the air and began beating and arresting protesters and journalists.
“We started to run, but the Taliban captured us, threw us to the ground and handcuffed us and started punching and kicking us in the face, head and body,” the reporter, who requested anonymity, told Efe news agency, and who assured that the cameraman accompanying him suffered the same fate.
Afterwards, he added, they were “thrown into the back of a truck” and then taken to a headquarter of the NDS, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency.
Tied with handcuffs behind their backs, the reporters were interrogated twice, in recorded and written statements, while being insulted and beaten by the Taliban, he said.
Beaten and tortured
“They kept us for three hours inside the NDS compound, where they insulted and beat us until a Taliban spokesman arrived and mediated our release on the condition that we would not cover the protests again,” the journalist said.
A Taliban told them, “We forgive you this time, but after this you are not allowed to cover the protests.”
This journalist was hospitalized with internal injuries following the beatings. Doctors told him that “one of the bones” in his chest was broken.
“After all this, I am very depressed, stressed and worried, the situation is not good for journalists,” he lamented, as he remains at home recovering.
With the return to power of the Islamists, remembered for the brutality of their first regime, now “freedom of the press is threatened, the Taliban are trying to silence the media,” he said.
During the last week, when protests in favor of the opposition forces increased, adding to previous protests by women, journalists and local media have reported attacks and arrests of their teams and workers, among them the news channel Tolo or the investigative media Etilaatroz.
Pictures of the Etilaatroz journalists after the torture show that they were whipped with cables and then sent to a hospital with serious injuries, one of them unable to walk.
“Our colleagues were severely tortured in different, systematic, and unprecedented ways. For four hours they lost consciousness four times. They could have died,” Zaki Daryabi, owner of the Afghan newspaper, said on Twitter.
In detention, the journalists were “tortured for a long time and without mercy,” he added.
The situation is also serious in the rest of the country, with reports of Islamist attacks on the press in the provinces of Herat, Kunduz, Badakhshan, and some others.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has “strongly” condemned these attacks in Afghanistan and urged “respect for international law and the physical integrity of journalists.”
Freedom of expression has been one of the main achievements in the last 20 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, a period of flourishing, previously unthinkable, which allowed the modernization of the country and the emergence of media.