As Taliban forces seize control in Afghanistan, global news outlets are struggling to stay safe and continue reporting. But local journalists could be at greater risk.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has warned that Afghan journalists face extreme dangers amid the Taliban takeover. On Sunday, the militants took control of the presidential palace in Kabul after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager in Kabul last week, according to Reuters, intensifying fear among journalists in the community.
Afghan journalists, particularly women, are “absolutely petrified,” CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward told CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. “They’ve been doing bold and incredible reporting for many years, and now there’s a very real fear that they might face retaliations for that or that certainly they won’t be able to do their work anymore.”
At least three female Afghan journalists have been murdered this year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), while one was shot dead by a gunman in December 2020.
“RSF is deeply concerned that the troop withdrawal will create an information vacuum and that the space for journalism will dwindle or disappear entirely,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire last month. “It is absolutely clear that there will be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without a purposeful commitment to the protection of journalists and to press freedom from the authorities.”
Many independent newsrooms in Afghanistan are “pretty much hunkered down at the moment,” Ward said, adding that “there is a sense of real concern that things could get chaotic on the streets.”
Allthough “there’s no sense at the moment that Western journalists are being targeted,” Ward said that her CNN crew had moved their live shot location indoors to avoid “potentially attracting a lot of attention.”
Just last month, Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photographer, was killed in clashes near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Siddiqui was the news agency’s chief photographer in India, based in Mumbai.
Concerns remain high that local reporters will be targeted for retaliation by the insurgents. “Some of these journalists and reporters know that they have a big X on their backs … because they have been so outspoken against the Taliban,” Ward said.
CNN’s crews in Afghanistan are being “exceptionally cautious,” Ward said, and will leave if necessary. But “for so many Afghans, that’s simply not an option. They’re here, they have to stay, they have to live with the consequences of this next chapter.”
– Diksha Madhok contributed to this report.