Call to evacuate Afghan journalists

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace. Photo: Associated Press/ Rahmat Gul

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other media freedom organisations have called on the United States to do more to protect Afghan journalists as the county falls under the control of the Taliban.

The New York-based CPJ said the US should provide emergency visas and facilitate the evacuation of the journalists. It said there was deep concern for the safety of hundreds of local journalists, interpreters, fixers and media workers who could be targeted by the Taliban.

“The United States has a special responsibility to Afghan journalists who created a thriving and vibrant information space and covered events in their country for international media,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The Biden administration can and should do all within its power to protect press freedom and stand up for the rights of the vulnerable Afghan reporters, photographers, and media workers.”

CPJ says it has a list of nearly 300 journalists it has confirmed are in danger, and hundreds more whose situation it is studying. But because of the chaos at Kabul airport, which is closed for commercial flights due to security reasons, only a few of the journalists have been able to get out in the past two days.

‘The vast majority of threatened journalists remain in hiding,’ CPJ said in the statement.

Among them are Afghan journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. A joint statement the three newspapers sent to President Biden called on him to guarantee safe passage out of the country for them.

“The international community’s understanding of what is happening in Afghanistan will depend on the survival of what was once a thriving independent press, even if much of the reporting takes place from exile,” Simon said.

Of the 300 journalists on its list, CPJ says there are 45 high priority cases of Afghan journalists in which the threat from the Taliban is clear and imminent. Many are said to be female journalists whose record of reporting on women’s rights has increased their risk.

CPJ says the list does not take into account family members who are facing danger, and it says it has received 475 email requests for assistance which it is reviewing. CPJ has passed on information about the journalists at risk to the US and other governments willing to evacuate or accept journalists.

At least 53 journalists have been killed since 2001, and five were killed last year alone. CPJ says it has been getting requests for help from Afghan journalists since the start of 2021, and increased as the Taliban moved in as the US and NATO withdrew.

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