Taliban crackdown on Afghan women and media
Many Afghans who hoped that the Taliban would reform their extreme views amid ongoing talks with the Afghan government and the US troop withdrawal have been disappointed by the new severe restrictions imposed on the local population in some of the districts recently captured by the militant group, a media report said.
Several residents of Balkh, a district in Balkh that is located 20 km north of the provincial capital, Mazar-e-Sharif, confirmed to the Voice of America (VOA) that the Taliban have distributed leaflets, ordering locals to follow strict rules that are similar to those they imposed on Afghans when they last governed the country from 1996 to 2001.
"They want to impose the restrictions that were imposed on women under their rule," said Nahida, a 34-year-old resident of Balkh district, adding that the restrictions targeting women include "not leaving our houses without a male companion and wearing hijab".
Nahida, who requested to be identified by her pseudonym due to safety concerns, said the group's new restrictions will be difficult for women to follow "since many of them are the breadwinners of their families and they have to work outside".
According to the Afghan government, about 30 per cent of the civil servants are now women who were not allowed to work outside their homes during the Taliban's rule.
Another resident of Balkh, who requested anonymity, said "salons were ordered not to shave or trim beards" when the Taliban controlled the district last month.
"It is possible that they impose more restrictions. In some of the mosques, during the Friday sermons, Mullahs say that the Sharia law should be implemented," another Balkh resident told VOA.
In several districts of Takhar, Badakhshan, and Kunduz provinces that came under Taliban control recently, local reports claim the group issued similar restrictions on women and forced men to grow beards.
The acting US Ambassador in Kabul, Ross Wilson, in a tweet last week, warned that the Taliban's growing violence violated human rights and triggered fears that "a system this country's citizens do not support will be imposed" .
The report quoted Heather Barr, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher in Asia, said that reports about the Taliban recent crackdown on women and media were "not very surprising" since her organisation's investigation has found that "the Taliban's policies are not that different from what they were in 2001" .
It is "very concerning indeed for human rights", Barr told VOA, adding that "some of these abusive attitudes are actually intensifying as they are feeling triumphant in gaining control of more and more territory" .
The watchdog group in a report last year said although the Taliban, at least at the leadership level, have portrayed themselves as having reformed their hardline views, they have continued to impose extreme restrictions enforced by the militants.
This scepticism was also shared by Sher Jan Ahmadzai, the director of Centre for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, the report said.
"There is no evidence to substantiate their claims that they have changed their tactics of dealing with the local populace in the areas of their control," said Ahmadzai.
He added that local reports from the areas under the Taliban show the militants have forced residents to feed them and forced the women not to venture out of their houses without their partners or relatives from their families.
"It is difficult to confirm such posts by independent organisations because they are not allowed to report from areas under the Taliban openly," Ahmadzai said.
Nawbahar, the only FM radio station in Balkh district, was forced to broadcast Taliban's 'Tarani' (chants) and anti-government messages instead of music when the militants entered the district last month, according to local journalists.
"It is against the freedom of expression," lamented Abdul Aziz Danishjo, a journalist in Mazar-e-Sharif, who said the Taliban had forced Nawbahar editor and other staff to go to the radio station and start broadcasting "what the Taliban want".
Nai, a local media watchdog, has reported that nearly 20 radio stations have ceased broadcasting in Afghanistan's northern provinces due to the Taliban's restrictions and ongoing fighting.
Some local journalists view the Taliban crackdown as a major blow to journalism in Afghanistan, a country ranked by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) at 122nd out of 180 nations for violations against journalists.
The report said Mohammad Yaqoob, a local journalist in Balkh province, said the growing violence and Taliban restrictions mean many parts of Afghanistan will be cut off from the rest of the world, making it harder to monitor the human rights violations.
"As a journalist, I would say that the Taliban and the government should follow the media laws," Yaqoob said.
Yaqoob added that the warring parties should not impose their views on the local radio stations in the areas that come under their control.
The RSF charges that violence against journalists and media outlets has increase "significantly" despite of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.-IANS
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