Taleban threatens to kill Afghan journalists

ToloNews director Lotfullah Najafizada (right) was one of 30 Afghan journalists targeted by the Taleban in a personal threat via social media.
ToloNews director Lotfullah Najafizada (right) was one of 30 Afghan journalists targeted by the Taleban in a personal threat via social media.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL • Afghan journalists covering the fall of Kunduz this month had a litany of complaints: The military often blocked their access to the battle; top officials tried to get them to change reports that disputed official accounts; and some, like staff from Al Jazeera, were even expelled from the area.

All of that quickly faded, however, when the Taleban made the ultimate complaint about negative coverage: On Oct 12, the insurgents not only threatened to kill anyone working for two of the country's leading television channels, but also made it highly personal.

Using social media sites, the insurgents posted slickly produced videos that scrolled menacingly through archive pictures of about 30 of the networks' staff members.

Mr Lotfullah Najafizada, director of ToloNews, the country's most watched news programme, was one of those whose pictures were posted with the Taleban's death-threat voice-overs. "This statement was the first of its kind in the past 14 or 15 years, and it took us by surprise," Mr Najafizada said.

Previously, he added, "the Taleban knew it was important for the group to have some press coverage, and has tried to dissociate itself from attacks on journalists".

UNITED IN THE FACE OF DANGER

The Afghan media really came together and said, this is a threat against all of us.

MR LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA, director of ToloNews

The insurgents issued the death threats ostensibly in response to claims broadcast by ToloNews and channel 1TV that the Taleban in Kunduz had raped women after their takeover. Tolo's report described rapes at a university hostel.

But the details remained hazy: The head of the Kunduz University, Mr Abdul Qadoos Zarifi, disputed the report, saying the hostel was empty when the Taleban took over Kunduz because the students had gone home for the Eid holiday.

Mr Najafizada said Tolo's report was balanced, noting the denial by the university authorities, and the government military sources insisting the rapes had been of some girls who had not gone home.

The niceties of journalistic balance were lost on the insurgents, whose statement on one of their websites was worded in unusually harsh terms.

The Taleban also condemned the networks as being American-funded; many Afghan news organisations are, at least in part, and many Afghan journalists have received training from American-financed aid projects.

The rape story, the Taleban statement said, was a "clear shameless example of propaganda by these satanic networks".

"Hereafter, all the reporters and associates of these channels will be deemed enemy personnel; all of their centres, offices and dispatched teams will be considered military objectives, which will be directly eliminated," it added.

Afghan journalists responded to the threats, with many of them expressing support for the television stations. "The Afghan media really came together and said, this is a threat against all of us," Mr Najafizada said.

Nai, the leading group representing Afghan journalists, issued a statement condemning the threats, vowing that if any journalists were harmed by the Taleban, all Afghan news media would boycott coverage of the insurgents.

Attacks on journalists in Afghanistan are hardly new. Last year, nine were killed, according to Nai. Most of them, however, were killed by government forces or in government territory, as the Taleban held to a policy that it would not harm anyone it considered a legitimate journalist.

For the most part, Afghan journalists in the past have had much more to worry about from government officials and their allies. Nai's "Media Watch" reports are full of cases where Afghan journalists were beaten by police officers, forced to leave their homes by officials, and threatened with death over reports critical of the government.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Taleban threatens to kill Afghan journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe