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New Taliban guidelines raise fears about the future of press freedom

Concerns are rising over the increasing constraints on news media in Afghanistan by the Taliban government after officials released a new framework of rules for journalists, which critics say open the door to censorship and repression.

Qari Muhammad Yusuf Ahmadi, interim director of the State Media and Information Center and longtime Taliban spokesman, revealed 11 rules for journalists this week. These include instructions against publishing topics that are opposed to Islam or insult national personalities, and also instructing journalists to prepare news reports in coordination with the Government Media Office.

The once vibrant media industry in Afghanistan has been in free fall since it came under Taliban control last month. Many Afghan journalists fled the country for fear of repression and violence by the new rulers, while dozens more remain in hiding and still searching for a way out of Afghanistan.

According to local media, more than 100 local media companies and radio stations across the country have ceased to operate, have been shut down, taken over by the Taliban or taken out of business. Some of the most prominent newspapers had to cease print operations and now publish only online amid the country’s sharp economic downturn.

A US-based press freedom organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, focuses on helping Afghan journalists and emergency response to track violence against journalists by the Taliban.

“Journalists are just horrified,” said Steven Butler, who manages the organization’s Asia program. He said the organization has been receiving hundreds of emails from journalists asking for help.

According to journalists, in Kabul in early September, the Taliban subjected a large number of protesters and journalists to abuse in overcrowded prisons, covering demonstrations against the new government. Images showed two detained journalists with injuries sustained in the back from being hit with cables and sparked international outrage.

More than a dozen Afghan journalists and media personnel interviewed by The New York Times earlier this month described living with a sense of fear and self-censorship – struggling to deliver news despite the Taliban releasing little information. Happened.

The new rules announced by the Taliban have done little to calm the panic among members of the media and advocates for journalists.

Another press freedom organization, Reporters Without Borders, called the rules “spine-chilling” in a statement on Thursday, and warned that although some of them – such as calls for truth and balance – may seem reasonable, Because the whole rules were “extremely”. Dangerous because they open the way for censorship and harassment.”

In its statement, the group noted that some clauses were similar to wording in Afghanistan’s national media law, with no mention of the Taliban conforming to international standards and press freedom conventions.

The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a statement that some rules can be used coercively. “They are sick of the future of journalistic freedom and pluralism in Afghanistan.”

Butler said the ambiguity of the rules, and their lack of standards, would allow them to be abused.

“You don’t really know what it means or how it will be interpreted,” he said. “Many countries across the region have rules that are equally vague, and they are used on a regular basis to chase down journalists, imprison them.

“Are we going to believe that the Taliban is going to behave better than these other governments that claim to be democracies?” Butler said. “It’s hard to be optimistic about that.”

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