As well as often threatening Afghanistan’s news media, the Taliban have in recent months been forcing media outlets in several provinces to pay arbitrary taxes that are tantamount to a ransom to be allowed to continue operating.
The targets have included Ghaznavian, a privately-owned TV station based in the southeastern province of Ghazni.
Ghaznavian CEO Ahmad Farid Omari said on 19 December: “The Taliban contacted us by telephone at the start of the spring and demanded 400,000 afghanis (25,000 euros), saying it was the tax they are now imposing on media throughout the country. After several reminders and threats, we paid.”
Mohammad Aref Noori, the head of the Ghazni Union of Journalists and Media, said: “For the past three months, the Taliban have been asking media outlets for their turnover figures in order to assess the new taxes they must pay, and then send them threatening letters and warnings to make them pay up.”
The victims of these Taliban ransom demands have included two radio stations, Radio Killid and Radio Sama, both of which were asked to provide their turnover figures so that their tax could be calculated.
The representatives of these radio stations said they immediately alerted the local and national authorities but the authorities claim that the media outlets refused to provide all the evidence of these threats that they needed in order to locate and prosecute those responsible.
At the same time, the authorities nonetheless claim that they have the situation under control and that they can guarantee the safety of these media outlets.
“In the light of this situation, protecting media and journalists must be a priority for the Afghan authorities,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Iran/Afghanistan desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “The Taliban are the media’s enemies and their goal is to create news and information black holes. The media and the authorities must together find a solution to prevent the Taliban from taking the media hostage and demanding ransoms.”
The security situation is worsening by the day. The authorities have proposed reinforcing protection for media premises. This may be effective but it has the drawback of cutting off media from their community. Experience also shows that this kind of protection is not effective in small towns. It is not just the media outlet itself that is targeted, but also its journalists and other employees.
Omari, who is very critical of the lack of action by the authorities, says he paid the ransom in order to protect his own life and the lives of his 18 employees and because he did not think the security forces could guarantee their safety. After speaking out, Omari is now under threat not only from the Taliban but also from the authorities, who accuse him of “collaborating with the enemy.”
After nine months of these threats, Radio Killid had to slash the number of its employees and Radio Sama is financial difficulty.
“We decided not to pay these ransoms and we told the authorities about these threats against the radio station and our employees on site, but they have done nothing,” Killid media group CEO Najiba Ayubi told RSF. “We are now broadcasting by satellite but with only two technicians. Sixteen employees have been laid off. And we cannot cover local news.”
According to the information obtained by RSF, other media outlets have paid ransoms. Taliban spokesman Zabiollah Mojaeh has also confirmed that the Taliban have received these taxes. In reality, the government does not have complete control over provincial towns and villages.
Afghanistan is ranked 120th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
(c) 2018 Reporters without Borders