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Taliban deliberately target journalists: Watchdog

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(Last Updated On: April 2, 2021)

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Taliban of “deliberately” targeting journalists and other media workers, including women in Afghanistan. 

The watchdog said in a statement that threats and attacks against journalists have increased sharply since the start of the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

According to the statement, such attacks have increased “concerns about preserving freedom of expression and the media in any peace settlement.”

The Watchdog has found that the Taliban commanders and fighters have engaged in a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence against members of the media in areas where the Taliban have significant influence, as well as in Kabul.

“Those making the threats often have an intimate knowledge of a journalist’s work, family, and movements and use this information to either compel them to self-censor, leave their work altogether, or face violent consequences.”

“Provincial and district-level Taliban commanders and fighters also make oral and written threats against journalists beyond the areas they control. Journalists say that the widespread nature of the threats has meant that no media workers feel safe.”

“A wave of threats and killings has sent a chilling message to the Afghan media at a precarious moment as Afghans on all sides get set to negotiate free speech protections in a future Afghanistan,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director.

“By silencing critics through threats and violence, the Taliban have undermined hopes for preserving an open society in Afghanistan,” she said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 46 members of the Afghan media between November 2020 and March 2021, seeking information on the conditions under which they work, including threats of physical harm.

The HRW stated that those interviewed included 42 journalists in Badghis, Ghazni, Ghor, Helmand, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Wardak, and Zabul provinces and four who had left Afghanistan due to threats.

The Watchdog noted that in a number of cases that Human Rights Watch documented, Taliban forces detained journalists for a few hours or overnight.

“In several cases they or their colleagues were able to contact senior Taliban officials to intercede with provincial and district-level commanders to secure their release, indicating that local commanders are able to take decisions to target journalists on their own without approval from senior Taliban military or political officials.”

The statement said that the Taliban officials at their political office in Doha, Qatar, have denied that their forces threaten the media and say that they require only that journalists respect Islamic values.

But Taliban commanders throughout Afghanistan have threatened journalists specifically for their reporting, the HRW said, adding that the Taliban commanders have considerable autonomy to carry out punishments, including targeted killings.

According to the Watchdog, women journalists, especially those appearing on television and radio, face particular threats.

The recent wave of violent attacks has driven several prominent women journalists to give up their profession or leave Afghanistan altogether.

“Female reporters may be targeted not only for issues they cover but also for challenging perceived social norms prohibiting women from being in a public role and working outside the home.”

A journalist covering the fighting in Helmand province said that one of his sources told him the Taliban were looking for him and he should lie low. “The majority of Afghan journalists feel intimidated and threatened,” he said. “All the journalists are scared because everyone feels like they could be next.”

The watchdog has called on the Taliban leadership to “immediately cease intimidation, threats, and attacks against journalists and other media workers.”

“They should urgently provide clear, public directives to all Taliban members to end all forms of violence against journalists and other media workers, and intimidation, harassment, and punishment of Afghans who have criticized Taliban policies. The Taliban leadership should also explicitly reject violence against women in the media,” the HRW said.

Gossman stated: “It’s not enough for Taliban officials in Doha to issue blanket denials that they’re targeting journalists when Taliban forces on the ground continue to intimidate, harass, and attack reporters for doing their jobs.”

“Countries supporting the peace process should press for firm commitments from all parties to protect journalists, including women, and uphold the right to free expression in Afghanistan,” she said.

“Since the beginning of the spike in targeted killings in early November [2020], supporters of the group [Taliban] have welcomed the killings of journalists on social media, calling these killings in many cases a religious duty. Taliban supporters accuse journalists of being agents of Western countries, and corrupted by Western values, thereby legitimizing any violence against journalists and the media as not only being permissible but a key part of their war,” said the Afghan Journalists Security Committee (AJSC) quoted by the HRW.

According to the HRW findings, the Taliban commanders and fighters have long targeted the media, accusing them of being aligned with the Afghan government or international military forces.

“If journalists report unfavorably about Taliban actions or military operations, the Taliban often accuse them of being spies,” the watchdog said.

The Taliban, so far, has not commented about this report. The group, however, constantly denied its involvement in Targeting civil activists, journalists, and media workers.

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NATO foreign ministers to discuss lessons learned in Afghanistan: Stoltenberg

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(Last Updated On: November 27, 2021)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that foreign ministers will next week discuss the organization’s engagement in Afghanistan and “identify the right lessons for future crisis management operations”.

Outlining the priorities to be discussed at the upcoming NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting in Riga, Latvia, from Tuesday, Stoltenberg said: “Following the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and armed forces in Afghanistan in August, I launched a comprehensive assessment of our engagement.”

He said NATO went into Afghanistan “to prevent terrorists from using the country again to attack us.

“And since 9/11, there has been no terrorist attack against our countries from Afghanistan.

“But we must recognize that over the years, the international community set a level of ambition that went well beyond the original aim of fighting terrorism.

“And on that, we were not able to deliver. Despite our sacrifice and considerable investment,” he said adding that he expects ministers to discuss this and to “identify the right lessons for our future crisis management operations”.

Stoltenberg also noted that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan “is dire, dire, and very difficult and this is of course of great concern for all of us. And winter is coming. And we know that many people are at risk of suffering and having a very difficult time throughout the winter.”

He said he welcomed moves by NATO Allies to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, which he said was “extremely important and something which demonstrates the will, and the commitment, of NATO Allies to continue to support the people of Afghanistan.”

He also touched on Pakistan and said: “NATO has had regular contacts with Pakistan for many, many years. Of course, not least discussing the situation in Afghanistan. We have political contacts, we have regular military contacts and dialogue and I think this is important that this continues because there are still many challenges in the region, especially related to the future of Afghanistan.”

Stoltenberg also said the ministers will address the continuing build-up of Russian forces in and around Ukraine, saying: “It raises tensions and it risks miscalculation. Russia must show transparency, reduce tensions and de-escalate. NATO’s approach to Russia remains unchanged. We keep our defense and deterrence strong while remaining open for dialogue.”

NATO Foreign Ministers will also address the migrant “situation on the border with Belarus and the Lukashenko regime’s exploitation of vulnerable people”.

Other issues that will be discussed include NATO’s next Strategic Concept. He said: “It needs to take account of new realities, including Russia’s aggressive actions, a more assertive China, emerging and disruptive technologies, and the security impact of climate change. It will drive our continued adaptation in a more competitive world.”

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EU calls for support of Afghans to prevent economic and social collapse

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(Last Updated On: November 27, 2021)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday the EU must support the people of Afghanistan “to prevent imminent economic and social collapse that the country faces.”

Speaking during the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the European Union’s chief executive said it was crucial for the EU to avoid “imminent economic and social collapse” in Afghanistan, despite not recognizing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) leadership.

Last month, the European Union announced a humanitarian package worth 1 billion Euro for the Afghan people and neighboring countries, including a 300 million Euro in humanitarian aid.

Speaking from Phnom Penh during the summit’s closing ceremony, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on ASEM and its partners to strengthen the partnership between Asia and Europe.

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Thousands take exams for Turkish-run schools in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: November 26, 2021)

Thousands of Afghan students, including girls under grade 7, took entrance exams on Friday for a Turkish foundation in Kabul that runs some of Afghanistan’s most highly regarded schools.

As many as 3,600 students sat the highly competitive exams for the Afghan-Turk school system, Afghan-Turk School’s officials said.

“We want all girls to be educated. This is our president’s and our government’s wish and that of Afghans,” the Educational Councillor at Kabul’s Turkish Embassy, Changez Idmir, said at a news conference to mark the holding of the entrance tests.

Facing mounting global pressure, the IEA has said they will allow older girls to resume classes once arrangements are made to ensure they can do so in conformity with what the movement considers proper Islamic standards.

Afghan-Turk schools are regarded among the top schools in Afghanistan and admission is highly competitive.

Unofficially, many parts of the country have seen older girls restart classes, while officially the IEA says they are still working on a national system.

Ehsan Khateb, Head of Kabul Education Department, also attended the ceremony and thanked the Turkish government.

Afghan-Turk schools have had to make changes to their curriculum, shutting music, theatre, and dance departments at the request of IEA officials, the head of the Turkish educational foundation, Salleh Saghar, told Reuters.

The foundation respected the rules and culture of the host country, he said.

“Like the music, theatre, and dancing department … based on Taliban (IEA) requests we closed the departments,” he said, and it was for the IEA government to decide if they would reopen.

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