The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Taliban blocks two U.S.-funded radio stations in Afghanistan

A shoeshine man listens to a radio as he waits for customers on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on June 8, 2020. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL — Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Thursday blocked transmissions by two news radio stations funded by the U.S. government, saying they had repeatedly “failed to adhere” to government press laws, “violated journalistic principles” and aired “one-sided broadcasts.”

The Ministry of Information and Culture announced that it had stopped FM broadcasts by the Voice of America in 13 of the country’s 34 provinces and suspended nationwide broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is known here as Radio Azadi.

Both 24-hour news stations operated for many years within Afghanistan, even after Taliban forces took power in August 2021 and established a strict religious regime called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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Radio remains a crucial source of information and news in Afghanistan, a country where millions of people live in poor rural villages and illiteracy remains high.

The crackdown drew immediate protests from officials at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees both channels. Amanda Bennett, the agency’s chief executive, said the ban “will be seen for what it truly is, an effort to restrict Afghan citizens’ access to uncensored information.”

She said the agency “will not let this action deter us” and is “already exploring alternative transmissions.” The FM broadcasts can also be accessed from nearby countries and via digital means at home.

Afghan officials did not provide specific examples of objectionable content in the broadcasts, but the government has expressed growing displeasure with what it calls unfair and inaccurate depictions of its actions and beliefs by international media, foreign officials and other critics abroad.

In a recent statement, the chief spokesman for the government, Zabihullah Mujahid, took issue with criticism by foreign officials and human rights groups after new reports circulated of harsh corporal punishments such as lashings being meted out in rural areas for theft and adultery.

The statement said that comments by foreign officials calling “Islamic penal laws cruel, inhumane and degrading” are “an insult toward Islam and a violation of international principles.”

In separate recent comments, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said the government is requesting that foreign media use certain language when describing the regime and its actions. He said officials were preparing to issue several rules that would formally require the use of such language.

“We ask that you call it the Islamic Emirate government, not an extremist group,” Balkhi said. Coverage that disparages or mocks the “religious or cultural norms of our country” would be prohibited under such rules, he added. “The government is very serious about our religious laws and obligations.”

Scores of Afghan media outlets have closed down since the new Taliban authorities took power, and many local journalists have left the country. The remaining TV news channels continue to report on major daily developments, but they contain little direct criticism and less debate, after years of nightly free-for-all discussions that drew large audiences.

Several Afghan journalist groups expressed cautious concern over new radio shutdowns but did not strongly protest. An official of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said media organizations that act “under the rules and laws of Afghanistan should be encouraged because free media is important for sharing information with the people.”

Responses from Afghans on social media were far more varied. Some posts seemed to support the ban, but others were sarcastic. “Thanks to Allah. Enemy media outlets definitely disturb our nation’s mind,” tweeted one man. Another suggested that the “Taliban should establish some radio channel that only praises the Islamic Emirate, 24/7.”

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