The Taliban have detained journalists for reporting on TV show censorship

An Afghan journalist says Taliban spies arrived at night to arrest three employees of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s largest television station.

KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban spies arrived at night to arrest three employees of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s largest television station, a channel’s executive said Friday.

The country’s new rulers apparently did not like the broadcaster’s decision to ban foreign drama series from local television, said ToloNews chief Khapalwalk Sapai, who was among the three arrested.

Sapai, and Nafay Khaliq, the station’s legal adviser, were released within hours, but station presenter Bahram Aman was in custody on Friday, Sapai told the Associated Press.

Intelligence officials from the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) arrived after 8pm on Thursday to arrest the three. Sapai said the station was still seeking Aman’s release.

Moby Group, a media company owned by Tolo TV, said it had been detained for “publishing Tolo news about the banning of foreign drama series,” a decision by the Taliban’s ministry to promote Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The Afghan-owned media company has interests in South and Central Asia as well as the Middle East and Africa.

The arrests were met with international outrage, including widespread calls from the United Nations and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to stop harassing local journalists and prevent independent expression through threats, arrests and intimidation.

The Taliban must immediately release Tolo News reporter Bahram Aman, an independent broadcaster, and stop detaining and intimidating members of the Afghan Press Corps, according to a statement from the US-based CPJ.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has made a similar call.

“UNAMA is deeply concerned about the detention of journalists and the growing restrictions on the media in Afghanistan,” it said on Twitter. “It’s time to dump the Taliban and stop banning them. It is time for a constructive dialogue with the Afghan media community. “

Neither the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture nor its intelligence agency, AP, responded to requests for comment.

The CPJ statement said that the Taliban’s intelligence service had denied the allegations.

Since returning to power last August, the Taliban have sent out erratic signals about what the media landscape will look like under their rule, with occasional welcome from international journalists and frequent attacks by the Afghan media.

In the turbulent days of the US withdrawal last August, the status of journalists in Afghanistan plummeted dramatically when thousands of Afghans fled or were ousted by foreign governments and agencies. Many who have remained, even those who have not fought the new Taliban rulers, say they are afraid of what tomorrow will bring.

Most ToloNews journalists and producers are women because Sapai, who was briefly detained, said she made a special effort to recruit and train Afghan women journalists.

In December, Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association found that 231 of 543 media outlets had closed, while more than 6,400 journalists had lost their jobs since the Taliban took over. The outlets were closed due to lack of funds or journalists leaving the country, the report said.

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