Taleban warns staff of Afghanistan TV station not to promote immorality after bomb attack

Afghan policemen and firefighters inspecting the wreckage of a bus that was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Jan 20, 2016.
Afghan policemen and firefighters inspecting the wreckage of a bus that was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Jan 20, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (Reuters) - The Taleban warned media organisations on Thursday (Jan 21) not to promote immorality and foreign cultures a day after claiming responsibility for killing seven journalists for the country's most-watched television channel.

The suicide car bomb attack in Kabul rush-hour traffic on Wednesday was condemned by governments, human rights groups and rival news organisations as an assault on press freedom.

The Taleban said they targeted Tolo TV, Afghanistan's largest private television channel, because it was producing propaganda for the United States military and its allies.

Tolo was attacked for "promoting obscenity, irreligiousness, foreign culture and nudity", the Taleban said in a statement."Its workers were anti-jihad and anti-Islam elements trained by foreign intelligence toiling for the Americans."

The Taleban openly threatened to target the station last year after it reported allegations of summary executions, rape and kidnappings by Taleban fighters during the battle for the city of Kunduz.

Although some details of those reports have been disputed, Tolo insists it was scrupulous in reporting all sides of the fighting, including allowing Taleban spokesmen a right of reply.

Tolo, which created Afghanistan's first 24-hour news channel, has won a reputation for fast, credible reporting in a shifting media landscape that features scores of newspapers, broadcasters and online news sites.

The Taleban on Thursday said it is not specifically targeting media as part of a widening insurgency, but warned organisations they should not align themselves with Tolo.

The emergence of a free and vibrant media is seen as one of the main achievements of post-Taleban Afghanistan.

During their five years in power, the Taleban banned television to stop people viewing what they derided as vulgar, immoral and anti-Islamic material.

Mr Saad Mohseni, the owner of Tolo and the country's largest media mogul, said in a statement on Thursday the journalists killed were working to uphold freedom of speech in Afghanistan.

"The voices of those who we have lost will not be forgotten," Mr Mohseni said.

Reporting in Afghanistan has long come with risks. There are often threats against individual journalists, but this was a rare targeted attack on a national media group.

Many of the journalists who died in the attack were buried on Thursday surrounded by crying relatives who expressed frustration with the government for failing to improve security.

The Taleban are now firmly on the offensive across the county despite renewed efforts to start a peace process aimed at ending the war.