An Afghan newspaper is struggling to survive under the Taliban

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wooWhen senior Taliban officials, dressed in black, enter the struggling newsroom, some journalists freeze, with fear on their faces.

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He moves to a couch and sits in front of the editor, who is contemplating whether to close the newspaper on this particular day. To Mullah’s left are two journalists who were brutally beaten up a week ago by Taliban fighters for covering women’s rights protests.

as their conversation unfolds Washington Post Journalists, it becomes clear that Taliban officials are also concerned. The sly, black-turbaned man turns to Nemat Cash, one of the journalists who was attacked, and expresses what would have been previously unimaginable from a representative of a movement known for its brutality.


“We are sorry,” says Sarujullah Omari, a member of the Taliban’s newly created media committee. “We will investigate what happened.”

It is a sign of the Taliban’s effort to convince Afghans – and the world, especially Western donors – that its latest iteration is a more liberal, more gentle embodiment of the old, and one that ensures basic freedoms. But none of the journalists at Atilatroz, a publication providing one of the few remaining critical voices in Afghanistan, believe that the remorse is sincere. Its editors note that the journey to reconciliation, while surprising, came a week after the attacks, and only after images of wounded bodies of journalists went viral.

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Even as he apologizes, saying it hurts when he looks at the photos, Omari suggests that the journalists were to blame. The paper, he says, needs to be more responsible.

“These were illegally organized protests,” Omari says. “You should be more cautious. These things can happen during a situation when we are just setting up.”

Atilatroz’s editor-in-chief, Zaki Dariabi, stared at him, hiding his anger.

“What happened was like a trick,” says Dariabi later. His younger brother Taki was beaten up with cash. “When he apologized, he also told me that we should be more careful, that it was our fault that our journalists were tortured…” says Dariabi. “I wish for a true investigation.”

If the Taliban were to hold its own fighters accountable for the attack, it could indicate that the rule of law applies to all, and it is important to uphold the rights of journalists. But messaging has so far conveyed nothing. Since the Taliban took over the nation last month, they have sought to silence the country’s vibrant media ecosystem, one of the most significant achievements of 20 years of Western intervention.

I could hear the screams of the people inside. There were also women screaming. i don’t know what happened to them

Hundreds of Afghan journalists have fled the country, but for those unable to leave, or who have decided to stay, their worst fears have come true. Through a combination of decrees, intimidation, and physical assaults, newsrooms have lost staff, suppressed their voices, or been forced to self-censor. Taliban fighters have raided journalists’ homes and ordered female state-TV anchors to go off-air.

In recent days, at least 14 journalists have been detained and later released for covering protests in Kabul, in which nine victims have been beaten up by the Taliban, for the safety of journalists. According to the committee. The watchdog group describes the Taliban’s earlier promises to let the media operate freely as “useless”.

Asked about growing concerns over media repression by the Taliban, Taliban official Omari says, “This image is wrong.” He says that soon the terrorists will announce a “new mechanism” for how the media should work, and that “it will be more free and better than the previous government”. He said women would be allowed to continue working in the media.

But when pressed on whether media organizations and journalists would need to regulate their work according to strict Islamic laws, Omari nodded. “We will be freer than in the past, but every freedom must have a framework,” he says.

Cash, the corner of his left eye still bleeding from the attack, sits silently during an hour-long conversation between his editors, Omari, and another Taliban official on the media committee. After they leave, Cash walks onto a balcony, his face turning sad.

“I don’t trust them,” he says.

As a child growing up in rural Ghazni province, Cash listened to the radio every day to hear news from around the world. He majored in journalism and graduated from Kabul University in 2016. He later worked for a newspaper, and later as the director of a radio station.

“Becoming a journalist was the biggest dream of my life,” says Cash, who is now 28 and married.

Cash mostly covers social issues and wants to be a documentary filmmaker, he says. Last year, he was hired as a video journalist at Atilatroz, one of the country’s leading dailies. Its mission statement stands for everything Cash believes in: “informing the public, strengthening free media, freedom of expression and access to information.”

On the morning of 8 September, Naqdi and a colleague left their newsroom in western Kabul to put those words into practice.

He gathered courage as soon as he stepped outside. Cash and his accomplices have been afraid to shoot outside since the Taliban broke into the capital last month. “We were concerned about our safety,” he recalls.

But as women began to protest in Kabul, Cash felt a duty to shine a spotlight on those who had “lost their authority overnight”, he says.

At around 10.30, Cash and video editor Taki Dariabi began filming the crowd of women protesting. Just then a group of Taliban fighters came and ordered them to stop. One pointed his rifle at Cash and angrily said that he was not allowed to do the film. Cash says the fighter pressed the trigger.

“I told him: ‘I’m a reporter. This is my job,'” he says. “It wasn’t important to him.”

The fighter tried to grab her video camera, but the cash pushed it into the crowd of women. He saw another group of Taliban fighters arresting Taki. Cash called the newsroom to alert staff just before he took himself into custody.

He was taken to the nearby police station. Three Taliban fighters pushed Cash into a room, took his phone and tied his hands with a scarf behind his back. Then, they kicked her to the floor and hit her body with batons, whips and electric wires, Cash says.

“I felt like I was going to die,” he says.

He says that when they abused him, the fighters were accusing Cash of organizing the protests. Fifteen minutes later, they threw him in the prison cell. A few minutes after that, the fighters brought Taki. He was also beaten up badly.

Meanwhile, three other Atilatroz journalists arrive at the police station to try to persuade the Taliban to release their allies. Everyone was pushed around and their phones were confiscated. He was kept in another cell for four hours.

A senior editor, Khadim Karimi, describes his ordeal at the police station as saying, “A Taliban fighter slapped me in the face and lashed out at my colleague. “I could hear the screams of the people inside. There were also women screaming. I don’t know what happened to them.”

A few hours later, Cash and Taki were released. The newspaper sent a taxi to pick them up. When they reached the newsroom, they could hardly walk. Photos taken at the time and posted on social media show red bruises and spots on his back, legs and face. Both were taken to the hospital.

I don’t want to cover negative stories about Taliban. It’s about my safety. I’m worried the Taliban will arrest me again

Even before the attacks, Atilatroz was under pressure. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month, the newspaper was the second most read newspaper in the country. Top editor Zaki Daryabi says it started in 2012 and had a print edition of 2,000 copies per day. The newspaper has millions of followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Like most other Afghan media, it was partially supported by US and Western aid groups, but also generated income from advertising and other services.

Its journalists uncovered several government wrongdoings, including discriminatory recruitment practices, corruption and over-spending, which led to resignations and other changes.

Now, it is a shadow of its former self. In the wake of the Taliban takeover, the economic and monetary collapse has led to the decimation of advertising and subscriptions. With the exodus of Western governments and political uncertainty, grant money has also evaporated. As a result, the newspaper discontinued its print edition and continues to be published online only.

With the fall of the previous government, and the Taliban’s own administration still in transition, sources everywhere have evaporated, making it difficult to cover developments across the country. The staff used to prepare four to five in-depth reports daily. Now, the paper is published only one day, says Dariabi.

This is a scenario unfolding across Afghanistan. About 80 percent of media outlets have closed or are functioning only partially due to uncertainty, security concerns, financial problems or uncertainty about their future under the Taliban government, said Ahmed Qureshi, head of the Afghanistan Journalists Centre, a media aid organisation. it is said. , citing the estimates of his group. An obvious exception to the influence on the media are Western journalists, who have been allowed to work freely by the Taliban.

Atilatroz is also tackling the expectations of its readers, who want to see more investigative and regime stories that will hold the Taliban accountable. “There are a lot of things happening that put us under pressure,” Dariabi says. “On the one hand, a political dictatorial state. And the other side is a free and young generation that expects a lot from us.”



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