Afghanistan: We stand in solidarity with citizens, journalists and civil society

Afghanistan: We stand in solidarity with citizens, journalists and civil society - Protection

Women photojournalists on a course, part of a wider media training initiative in Afghanistan. Credit: Resolute Support Media

The Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan and the ensuing humanitarian, security, educational, cultural and economic crises will continue to be felt in the country, the region and the wider world for years to come. 

ARTICLE 19 expresses solidarity with Afghan citizens, millions of whom are now living in abject fear. We commit to work with partners to support journalists and media workers, human rights defenders and women’s rights activists, academics, writers, artists and educators, all of whom are at serious and immediate risk of targeted violence at the hands of the Taliban. 

We call for immediate action to protect these communities. Governments must increase their support for the evacuation, relocation, and resettlement of these and other vulnerable people. These actions include continuing to secure the airport, which is currently under the control of the United States, while the evacuation continues; broadening access to visas and asylum status for affected Afghan civilians; and halting deportations and forced returns to Afghanistan. The international community must also ensure the continuation of the negotiations for a transitional government in Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable to its responsibilities to respect international human rights law. 

The Taliban have shut down over 50 print, broadcast, and digital news media in the areas where they have seized control. The number of targeted killings of journalists, including prominent women, carried out by the Taliban has been rising rapidly since May. This month, they executed the director of Afghanistan’s government media center in Kabul. Not only are the Taliban taking actions that directly restrict media freedom, they are deliberately using fear and intimidation to create a chilling effect across Afghanistan. Several media outlets have preemptively made the decision to close, while those remaining are forced to disseminate Taliban-approved narratives and propaganda to protect their lives. 

Women journalists and media workers are at disproportionate risk of facing violence and retribution due to the misogyny of Taliban rule; there are several reports of women professionals fleeing their homes and going into hiding. Similarly, women’s rights activists and other civil society allies – many of whom have built prominent public profiles over the last 20 years under the encouragement of US international development initiatives – are now imperiled as they scramble to secure passage out of Afghanistan, despite limited opportunities.

Recent events and background

In early August 2021, the Taliban began systematically taking control of provincial capitals and major cities across the country. Within 10 days, the group took control of Kabul, the national capital. Fearing the Taliban’s return to power, thousands of civilians rushed to Kabul airport on 16 August in desperate efforts to flee the country; footage showed people clinging to the sides of planes and falling to their deaths during takeoff. At least five people were killed in the chaos. 

The Taliban has had a long history of carrying out widespread abuse and murder, particularly of women, religious minorities, journalists and civil society advocates fighting for democracy and human rights. Their recent advances pose a grave threat to the vibrant Afghan civil society and media environment that had been steadily growing over the past two decades since they were last ousted from formal power in 2001.