Five days after Northern Alliance troops liberated Kabul, the first image broadcast by the public television channel Kabul Television, after five years of silence, was the face of a woman, Maryam Shakiba, no longer covered with a chadri veil. Symbol of the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime, a predator of freedom of expression, the return of this female announcer to Afghan television screens was a new hope for the people of this country, who had been deprived of pluralist information since the beginning of the civil war in 1978. Only international radio stations, especially the BBC, broadcast news in Dari and Pashto to a population that had no access to television, independent press, radio news or the Internet. The Afghan people, great lovers of the radio, were dissatisfied with the paucity of the official Taliban radio station, Radio Shariat, which only broadcast religious debates and sermons. After September 11, the airwaves became a strategic terrain. The BBC, RFI and the Voice of America lengthened their programmes in Pashto and Dari, and the Americans launched the "Radio Free Afghanistan" project and distributed radios in the country. The Northern Alliance, not to be outdone, broadcast its own programmes from a vehicle equipped with an antenna as soon as they entered Kabul. However, Afghanis are distrustful of newspapers, because all the newspapers they can remember merely printed propaganda, and were, successively, royalist, soviet, jihadist and Taliban.
When Hamid Karzaï, the interim President of the Afghan government, took power on 22 December, he said, "Freedom of expression and belief is a right for each and every Afghan citizen, and it is our responsibility to defend this." But there is a lot of work to be done. As of 1 January 2002, governmental newspapers, radio and television have certainly reappeared, but independent media, such as Kabul Weekly, are still little more than projects. Dozens of journalists who stayed in Afghanistan or who took refuge outside the country would like to launch independent media or be involved in projects supported by the international community. But the country’s infrastructure is either obsolete or destroyed. There are only a few makeshift television antennas because American bombing destroyed those that existed before.
In addition, the press paid a heavy price to cover the American war in Afghanistan. Eight foreign journalists died in Afghanistan and dozens were attacked, arrested and shaken down by the different parties. The Taliban arrested four foreign correspondents and their guides, accusing them of "spying", while the Northern Alliance generalised their shakedown. As for the Americans, the US army bombed the offices of the Al Jazeera television station in Kabul and threatened some reporters who asked too many questions.
Eight journalists killed
During the night of 11 November 2001, foreign correspondents Johanne Sutton, Pierre Billaud and Volker Handloik were killed in an ambush laid by the Taliban against a column of the Northern Alliance army on the Shatarai front line (in the province of Takhar, north-east of Afghanistan). Johanne Sutton, 34, war reporter with Radio France Internationale (RFI), Pierre Billaud, 31, journalist with the French radio station RTL, and Volker Handloik, freelance reporter for the German weekly Stern, fell or jumped from the tank they were riding on, hurt by shrapnel and machine gun fire. Opposition troops hurried to escape the ambush. When they came back to the scene of the attack, they found Johanne Sutton’s body. Northern Alliance soldiers only found the bodies of Pierre Billaud and Volker Handloik the following day. More than a hundred soldiers died that night. At least four other journalists, including Veronique Ribeyrotte, of the French radio station France Culture, and Levon Sevunts, of the Canadian newspaper The Montreal Gazette, survived the attack even though they were on the same vehicle. Northern Alliance officers said that the journalists were murdered by the Taliban, while reports from journalists present during the attack suggest they were victims of indiscriminate shooting at the convoy.
On the morning of 19 November, Maria Grazia Cutuli, 39 years old, special envoy for the Italian daily Corriere della Serra, Julio Fuentes, 46 years old, reporter with the Spanish daily El Mundo, Harry Burton, 33 years old, Australian cameraman with the Reuters Video News press agency, and Azizullah Haidari, 33 years old, Afghan photographer with the Reuters agency, were killed by unknown perpetrators on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul. The eight-vehicle press convoy had left Jalalabad (Nangarhar province) for the capital, which was held by troops of the Northern Alliance. The majority of reporters had arrived the previous evening from the Pakistani border under protection of mujahideen of Commander Zaman. After driving for approximately two hours, the attack occurred near the bridge of Tangi Abrishum (90 kilometres east of Kabul); six men armed with Kalashnikovs blocked the convoy. They let the drivers flee from the first two cars, but made the four journalists inside follow them and tried to force them to climb the mountain that bordered the road. Facing their refusal, they beat them and threw stones at them. A few instants later, the armed men shot Maria Grazia Cutuli and one of the three other journalists. The two other journalists were killed later. The drivers joined the other cars of the convoy, and the six vehicles turned around to head to Jalalabad and raise the alarm. The same day, commanders in Jalalabad and Kabul sent mujahideen to the crime scene to try and recover the bodies and establish the circumstances of the murder. The region of Sarowbi (Kabul province), made up of narrow gorges, is known as an area where many bandits hide. The previous evening, at least six foreign journalists were attacked on the same road where anti-Taliban forces had not set up any checkpoints. On 20 November, the four journalists’ bodies were brought to the Jalalabad hospital where their colleagues formally identified them. On 21 November, the bodies were brought to the Peshawar medico-legal Institute. According to the people who saw them, the reporters were "brutally murdered" (an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross), and, "it was not a stickup", (Jack Redden, Reuters’ delegate in Pakistan). The bodies had been stoned and were riddled with bullets, particularly in their chests. In addition, the journalists’ equipment (video cameras and still cameras) and the cars were not stolen. Northern Alliance officials declared that they had opened an "investigation" into the death of the four reporters. The Rome public prosecutor’s department opened an investigation for "manslaughter" on 20 November. The death of Maria Grazia Cutuli caused great emotion in Italy.
The identity and motives of the murderers remain unknown. Some witnesses declared that they heard the assailants say to the journalists, "Do you think the Taliban are finished? We are still in power and we will have our revenge." But according to some Mujahideen leaders, including Haji Sher Shah, based in Jalalabad, the murderers were not likely to be Taliban, but thieves wanting to put the blame on Mullah Omar’s men after their crushing defeat in this province. Kabul officials later denied responsibility for murders committed by the fleeing Taliban. According to the witnesses, the attackers spoke in Pashto, wore traditional Afghan clothes, beards and turbans. Apparently, they seemed to be Afghan.
The four journalists were experienced. Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan refugee living in Pakistan, had worked for Reuters since 1992. He was married and the father of two children. He had recently expressed his desire to return to settle down in his country. His colleague Harry Burton, a native of Brisbane, had been hired by Reuters twenty months before. He was well known for his coverage of the East-Timor war in 1999, when the militias and the Indonesian army raged against the Timorese. Maria Cutuli and Julio Fuentes had published a scoop, the day before the ambush, about the discovery of bottles containing sarin gas in an abandoned Afghan camp near Jalalabad. Maria Cutuli, a native of Sicily, had worked for the Corriere della Serra since 1997, for which she covered several conflicts. Julio Fuentes had been sent by El Mundo to Bosnia, El Salvador and Chechnya.
During the night of 26 to 27 November, Ulf Strömberg, cameraman with the Swedish private television channel TV4, age 42, married, and the father of three children, was killed by gunshots in the chest. Three unknown, masked people, about fifteen years old, armed with Kalashnikovs and daggers, entered a Taloqan house where the special envoys of the Swedish daily Aftonbladet and of the Swedish television channel TV4 had been staying for several days. They first entered the room where the Aftonbladet journalists, Martin Adler and Bo Liden, and their Afghan interpreter were sleeping. They threatened the journalists with their weapons and took their satellite phones and money. They wanted to kill them but the Afghan interpreter pleaded for their lives. The three robbers also tried to enter the room where Rolf Porseryd and Ulf Strömberg, the two TV4 reporters, were sleeping. Strömberg stood against the door, which he slammed shut when he saw the armed men. One of them then shot in the journalists’ direction. Ulf Strömberg collapsed. After the robbers escaped, his colleagues tried to resuscitate him. Strömberg died a few minutes later in the car that was taking him to hospital. After this incident, Swedish media asked their teams to leave the country.
Nine journalists jailed
In July 2001, Mullah Asadullad Hanafi and Ghulam Farooq, respectively managing editor and editor-in-chief of the official Taliban publication Shariat, were arrested under orders of the main Taliban prosecutor. He accused them of negligence: Shariat had published a poem praising wine and taverns written by the Afghan writer Khushhal Khan. The two journalists were released a few days later, following an intervention by Mullah Omar, but they were removed from their positions in charge of this official publication.
On 28 September, the Taliban militia arrested journalist Yvonne Ridley in Daur Buba district (near Jalalabad, 15 kilometres from the Pakistani border). She was accompanied by a Pakistani guide, Jan Ali, and Naqibullah Mohmand, an Afghan, his wife and Basmena, their five-year old daughter. Ridley was wearing a burqa, the Afghan attire and veil imposed on women by the Taliban. As the group was heading toward the Pakistani border, after spending two days in Afghan territory, the donkey Yvonne Ridley was riding bucked sharply. She fell down, cursed in English and dropped her camera. Other travellers immediately identified her and turned the group in to the Taliban. Ridley, the Pakistani guide, the Afghan guide and his daughter were arrested. Only Naqibullah Mohmand’s wife managed to escape. The authorities took the prisoners to Jalalabad. On 29 September, Yvonne Ridley was questioned a first time by Afghan secret police. She was accused of "illegally" entering Afghanistan. On 30 September, a team of enquiry sent from Kabul arrived in Jalalabad to determine whether Yvonne Ridley was a spy or a journalist. The next day, the Al-Jazeera television channel said that Ridley was married to an Israeli and that she could be an English spy. Actually, Yvonne Ridley had been married to a former PLO officer with whom she had a daughter. At this time, representatives from the Red Cross were allowed to visit the journalist. Held in a house controlled by Afghan secret police, she was well treated. One of her guards said that, "she asked to eat four times a day and she can move around the house." On 2 October, the United Kingdom’s representative in Pakistan met the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad to ask that the journalist be freed. The following day, the Taliban Minister of Information declared that, "the journalist’s crime is serious." On 4 October, a Taliban official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Yvonne Ridley would be tried. "Even if she is a journalist, she must be tried because she broke our laws." The following day, a Taliban official admitted that there was no evidence that she was a spy, but the same day, Yvonne Ridley, her guides and the little girl were transferred to the central prison of Kabul. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, arrived in Pakistan where he repeated an appeal for Ridley’s release. But a dramatic turn of events occurred on 6 October when Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, ordered the release of Yvonne Ridley, following a request from the British government. Even though the American bombing of Afghanistan had begun, Yvonne Ridley was released from Kabul prison on 7 October, and left the capital under escort. On the morning of 8 October, the British government said it had no news concerning her whereabouts and recognized that the situation was "very, very difficult." But another surprise occurred when, during the evening, a Taliban official turned Yvonne Ridley over to Pakistani border guards. She was free to return to Peshawar. However, the two guides and little Basmena remained in prison in Kabul until the fall of the Taliban. It was later learned that Taliban also held two of Naqibullah Mohmand’s uncles for having taken in the journalist.
On 9 October, Michel Peyrard, journalist with the French weekly Paris Match, and Irfan Qureshi, Pakistani journalist and guide, were arrested by the Taliban in Goshta, on the road from the Pakistani border to Jalalabad (in eastern Afghanistan). Just after they crossed the Kabul River, Irfan Qureshi was recognised by a Taliban, who asked an old woman to lift up the burqa that was hiding the French journalist. He was unmasked, and the two reporters were handed over to the Taliban militia. A few hours later, Mukkaram Khan, correspondent with the conservative Pakistani daily Nawa-i-Waqt in the Mohmand Agency tribal zone, was arrested by another Taliban group while attempting to join his two colleagues. The three journalists were planning to go to Kabul to clandestinely cover the American bombings of the capital. After they were transferred to Jalalabad, they were paraded in the streets where militia members, including one Arab member of Al-Qaeda, incited the people to stone them. But some Taliban officials saved them from the crowd and took them to a secret police building. The authorities said that Michel Peyrard was on a "spying mission" and that he would receive "no leniency". These accusations were based on the confiscation of satellite phones and other equipment used by reporters in conflict zones. The French reporter had already managed to enter Afghanistan disguised as a woman a week earlier. Michel Peyrard is an experienced journalist who covered wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine and Kosovo. On 11 October, French president Jacques Chirac said that Michel Peyrard was a "recognised journalist, respected in his profession, who was doing his job." The French government asked the French embassy in Islamabad to help representatives of Paris Match deal with Taliban and Pakistani authorities. On 13 October, the Taliban allowed a group of foreign journalists to cross the border and travel to a village near Jalalabad where American bombings had killed civilians. One of the reporters, Rahimullah Yusufzai, correspondent with the BBC’s Pashto service and the Pakistani daily The News, met the three reporters and asked for their release. On 25 October, the Taliban announced that secret police had concluded their investigation of Michel Peyrard, Irfan Qureshi and Mukkaram Khan. Their conclusions could not be released but they would be given to the court that was going to judge the three men in accordance with Islamic law. It was believed that this court, made up of mullahs, would meet in two or three days’ time. It seemed that the Taliban wanted to resolve this case. If the charge of espionage was upheld, the three men risked the death sentence. Paris Match’s editorial staff, the French authorities, the Pakistani journalists’ families, hundreds of journalists and Reporters without Borders directly asked Mollah Zaef, the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, to intervene in favour of the three journalists. Some people who had influence with the Taliban, particularly mullahs and fundamentalist party leaders, had also been solicited to this end. Communication between Pakistan and Jalalabad confirmed that the four journalists (including a Japanese reporter, arrested shortly after) were well treated and confident. One of their Taliban guards said jokingly that it was necessary to find a solution since they were beginning to cost a lot and that there was no more room to hold all these journalists. Mukkaram Khan, a member of a fundamentalist party, obtained from the Taliban the right to launch the call for prayers. However, the family of Mukkaram Khan, a native from the Mohmand Agency tribal area, suffered reprisals from the region’s inhabitants. After the journalist was arrested by the Taliban and charged with spying for the Americans, hundreds of people gathered around his home, threatened to burn it, to expel his family from the tribe and to sentence the journalist in accordance with tribal laws on his return from Afghanistan. One of Mukkaram Khan’s brothers was forced to take refuge in Peshawar and his family hired armed men to protect their property. In Peshawar, Reporters Without Borders asked journalists working for the most popular Urdu newspapers in this region to publish articles explaining that Mukkaram Khan did not help a spy but a reporter who wanted to witness the situation in Afghanistan. On 29 October, Mullah Zaef received the family of Irfan Qureshi and said that he would soon be in a position to give them "good news". Two days later, the Paris Match journalist and his two colleagues were authorised by Taliban secret police to go out into the streets of Jalalabad for a few hours, and were allowed to visit the town bazaar. They were also reached by telephone from Pakistan and confirmed that they were well treated and optimistic about their release. After final negotiations with Maulvi Taj Mir, chief of the secret police in Jalalabad, Michel Peyrard was released on 3 November, after more than three weeks of detention. "I’m fine. The Taliban treated me well," he said to Agence France-Press. Irfan Qureshi and Mukkaram Khan were also suposed to be released, but at the last minute, Taj Mir took them out of the car that Michel Peyrard was riding in. Peyrard was welcomed at the Torkham, Pakistan, border post by the French ambassador to Islamabad, Yannick Gérard, Pakistani officiels and the Reporters without Borders correspondent. Michel Peyrard decided to stay in Pakistan to help obtain the release of his two fellow journalists. On 7 November, Michel Peyrard, in the company of Irfan Qureshi’s brother, met Sohail Shaheen, the second-in-charge of the Taliban embassy in Islamabad. Peyrard gave the diplomat a request for the two Pakistani journalists’ immediate release. Furthermore, Michel Peyrard said in an interview to the BBC Pashto service that he could not understand the "sine die" postponement of their release. "Our three names appeared on the release order," he said. Irfan Qureshi’s family expressed their concern about his "unexplained" continued detention. Some sources in Peshawar thought that the young leader of the Taliban secret police in Jalalabad, Taj Mir, could be at the origin of this about-face. On 9 November, one of Irfan Qureshi’s brothers left Islamabad for Jalalabad carrying a letter from Mullah Abdul Zaef asking for the release of the journalist. The Taliban finally released Irfan Qureshi the next day. An official in Jalalabad took him to the Torkham border post (NWFP), but he was immediately arrested by Pakistani secret police (ISI) who placed him in detention for questioning in Landi Kotal (west of Peshawar). The following day, he was allowed to return to his home in Peshawar. However, according to him, the Taliban laid down another condition for the release of Mukkaram Khan. According to a Taliban officer, interviewed by the Agence France-Presse at the border, his release would not be allowed unless the authorities of the Mohmand Agency, of which he was a native, requested it. But since the journalist was arrested, his family suffered reprisals from the area’s inhabitants. Finally, on 12 November, the Taliban released Mukkaram Khan. He crossed the border but went into hiding for a few days, fearing reprisals by members of his own tribe who accused him of being a "traitor".
On 22 October, the Taliban arrested Japanese journalist Yanagida Daigen near the Pakistani border. Even though he looks like an Uzbek, a large minority in Afghanistan, militia members unmasked him after questioning him. He was the only journalist who entered Afghanistan alone through the tribal zones north of Peshawar. Yanagida Daigen, in his thirties, was initially held in Asadabad, capital of Kunar district, then transferred to Jalalabad, where Michel Peyrard, Irfan Qureshi and Mukkaram Khan were held. After spending a few days in a cell with ordinary criminals, Yanagida Daigen was transferred, on the request of Michel Peyrard and Irfan Qureshi, to the Afghan secret police building where they were held. On 29 October, Yanagida Daigen was allowed to telephone one of his colleagues based in Peshawar. He explained that he was being treated well. Yanagida Daigen, from Mitaka, Japan, was writing a book about Afghanistan for CO Publishing Corporation. He had already been arrested once in 1991 by Russian soldiers in Siberia. On 24 October, a Taliban official said that Yanagida Daigen was suspected of spying. According to Irfan Qureshi, a Pakistani journalist released on 10 November by the Taliban, Yanagida Daigen was increasingly worried about his chances of being released quickly. He told his cellmate, "I can stay with the Taliban for six months, but they must at least tell me when they are going to release me." Finally, according to Qureshi, Maulvi Taj Mir, the chief of the secret police in Jalalabad, said, "His case is fairly simple and he should be released soon." On 16 November, Yanagida Daigen was finally released after the Taliban left Jalalabad under the pressure of American and opposition bombing. The following day, the journalist was taken to the Pakistani border in Torkham (60 kilometres from Peshawar) by the new Nangarhar provincial authorities.
On 2 November, it was learned that Mohammed Ballout, a French journalist working for a Kuwaiti television station, had been released. He had been held for several days by forces of the Northern Alliance who suspected him of being an Islamist agent. Since the murder of Commander Shah Massoud by two fake Arab journalists, Northern Alliance security forces were very wary of Arab reporters.
On 27 November, Ken Hechtman, a freelance Canadian journalist, was arrested by the Taliban in Spin Boldak (south-east of the country) for "spying". Initial information raised fears that he had been kidnapped and that his kidnappers were threatening to kill him. An Afghan gave Jonathan Steele, correspondent with the British newspaper The Guardian, one of Hechtman’s business cards, on which it was written that he had been kidnapped and would be killed if a ransom was not paid. Ken Hechtman was thought to be held in a small cell, his hands and feet tied, and to have been beaten by his jailers. Actually, Hechtman was held in a Spin Boldak prison cell and was treated well. Hechtman, 32 years old, was an unemployed computer technician with no war reporting experience. He had chosen to cover the conflict, especially in zones controlled by the Taliban, and had sold articles since October to several Canadian publications, including the Montreal Mirror. On
1 December, Mullah Aminullah, head of the Taliban security forces in Spin Boldak, handed Ken Hechtman over to the Pakistani police at the Chaman border post (west of Pakistan). Shortly before this, two Canadian diplomats in charge of negotiations had met with a Taliban official who had promised to release Hechtman within 24 hours. The journalist gave information on the circumstances of his arrest: "I arrived in Spin Boldak the day of the first American strikes. And that made the Taliban very nervous."
Fifteen journalists attacked
On 9 September 2001, Faheem Dashty, reporter with the independent Ariana press agency and Reporters without Borders’ correspondent, was seriously injured during the suicide bombing which cost the life of opposition leader Shah Massoud. After several days in a coma, the journalist, who had his hands burned, sent this statement to Reporters without Borders: "On 9 September, at half past twelve, I was in one of the Islamic government Foreign Minister’s reception rooms (Massoud’s headquarters, Khawja Bahauddin, Takhar province), with two Arabs who said they were journalists coming to interview Ahmed Shah Massoud. They had Belgian passports. I was there to cover the interview for my press agency. Massoud Khlili, our ambassador in India, and Mohammad Asem, one of the Foreign Minister’s staff, were also there. When Shah Massoud got ready for the interview, an explosion set fire to the room. Shah Massoud was in front of the cameraman, and the other Arab was one meter away from the commander. Massoud Khlili and Mohammad Asem sat side by side on a sofa. I was behind the two journalists. The suicide bomb was tied around the waist of the man filming. The blast and shrapnel went straight toward Massoud. The suicide bomber was cut into two parts. The second Arab escaped, but security guards killed him. Shah Massoud and Mohammad Asem died as martyrs, Massoud Khlili and I were injured." In October, Faheem Dasty went to France for medical treatment. He left in late December to relaunch the Kabul Weekly in Afghanistan. At the same time, Belgian, French and British police arrested accomplices of the two Arab terrorists responsible for killing Commander Massoud. The suspects, alleged members of Al Qaeda, are Yasser al-Serri, an Egyptian living in refuge in London, and Tarek Maaroufi, a Belgian of Tunisian origin. The Belgian police said one of the perpetrators of the attack was Dahmane Abd Al Sattar, a 39 year-old Tunisian with a journalism degree who lived in Belgium.
On 11 November, Gary Scurka, a cameraman with National Geographic, was wounded by shots fired from a Taliban position in Takhar province. He was treated in Khoja Bahawuddin hospital (Northern Alliance zone).
On 18 November, Jean Piel, a correspondent with Radio France Internationale in New Delhi, Tony Scott, a journalist with the RFI English service, and Medard Chablaoui, RFI technician, were attacked and robbed by a group of young bandits armed with Kalashnikovs on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul. The same day, a group of Philippine journalists was also shaken down before reaching Kabul.
On 20 November, Matthew MacAllester and Moises Saman, respec-tively Middle-Eastern correspondent and photographer with the American weekly Newsday, and Larry Kaplow, journalist for the paper version of the American channel Cox, were robbed and threatened with death by armed men. While they were attempting to reach an area at the east of Kabul where soldiers of the Northern Alliance were fighting Pashtun warriors, the journalists’ vehicle was stopped. The attackers made them empty their bags, stole about $120, and threatened them with their weapons. The Afghan interpreter accompanying the journalists attempted to dissuade the armed men from killing them. One of them had just said that the mullahs had "given orders to kill foreigners". After a half-hour of negotiations, the journalists were allowed to return to Kabul. More than ten reporters had already been attacked on this road.
On 22 November, a convoy of about fifty reporters, who had just been told by the Taliban to leave the city of Spin Boldak (south-west of the country), was stoned by Afghan refugees.
On 24 November, Andrea Catherwood, a British journalist with the television channel ITV-News, was wounded in the knee by shrapnel from a hand grenade near Mazar-i-Sharif (north of the country). While she was covering the surrender of a group of Taliban, one of them pulled the pin out of a hand grenade to blow himself up. The journalist, less than ten meters from the explosion, was hit in the knee with shrapnel.
On 25 November, two journalists with the Reuters press agency and a journalist with Time magazine just barely escaped being shot by Taliban prisoners who mutinied in a fort near Mazar-i-Sharif. They managed to get out of the fort but an American soldier was killed in the shoot-out. Several hundred Taliban fighters died during the suppression of this mutiny.
On 20 December, Joao Silva, Tyler Hicks, photographers with the New York Times, and David Guttenfelder, photographer with Associated Press, were roughed up and threatened by Afghans in presence of members of American Special Forces in Meelawa, near Tora Bora (east of the country). The American commandoes refused the presence of journalists in this area, and local Afghan forces were responsible for preventing the press from reaching it. The three journalists attempted to go through a roadblock set up by Afghan forces near a command post but were turned away by an Afghan interpreter. While they were taking pictures of the US Special Forces, an American soldier started taking pictures of them. After they returned to the valley, they were attacked by Mujahideen, who threatened them with their Kalashnikovs and brought them back to the command post. The three photographers were roughed up and harassed for more than an hour, and their cameras and computers were confiscated. Two American soldiers walked by them but refused to help them, saying they "had no control over the Mujahideen". According to David Guttenfelder, members of the Special Forces gave orders to the Mujahideen to apprehend them. The three journalists finally recuperated their cameras and computers, but the Mujahideen refused to return their memory cards containing the photos they had taken.
Pressure and obstruction
On 29 January 2001, Kabul authorities prevented journalists, especially a BBC correspondent, from going to Yakawlang, a city in the centre of the country, where, according to the United Nations, Taliban militia had massacred civilians. To justify this decision, Mullah Omar accused foreign media of broadcasting "biased and hostile" information.
On 14 March, the Information Minister of the Taliban government ordered the closure of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) office in Kabul and asked the radio station’s correspondent, Kate Clark, to leave the country within 24 hours. On 15 March, Taliban officials sealed the BBC office in Kabul, opened in 1990. Kate Clark, Afghanistan correspondent with the radio station for 18 months, left the country for Pakistan. "It is a big shock. I am extremely distressed and sad to leave. I was committed to this country and very fond of Afghans," she said, her eyes clouded with tears, to the journalists present in Kabul before leaving. This measure was linked to the previous day’s broadcast by the BBC Pashto Service of an interview with Ashraf Ghani, an Afghan intellectual living in the United States. The intellectual described the Taliban as "jahel" (illiterates) and said the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was "non-Islamic". The Information Minister also accused the BBC of broadcasting "anti-Afghanistan" news and ignoring "Taliban government viewpoints" and "existing realities". In April, a spokesman for the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to Reporters without Borders that negotiations were underway with the BBC to reopen a bureau in Kabul. According to the same source, the Taliban wanted the BBC correspondent to be an Afghan journalist and not a foreigner. Representatives of the BBC World Service confirmed this information. But it was not until the liberation of Kabul, in November, that BBC reporters could again work in the capital. On 16 December 2000, Taliban militia arrested Saboor Salehzai, the BBC correspondent’s interpreter in Afghanistan, and accused him of "violating the rules that regulate the work of Afghan people with foreign media." He was released on 20 December 2000.
On 5 June, the Taliban government announced that new rules would be applied to foreigners travelling or residing in Afghanistan. Foreigners had to sign a declaration promising not to spread obscenities, drink alcohol, eat pork, listen to loud music or circulate documents hostile to the Taliban regime. Those in violation could face one month in jail or expulsion. These new measures especially concerned foreign journalists whose presence in Afghan was already governed by the 21-article text promulgated in August 2000. As of that date, foreign reporters arriving in Kabul received a dossier whose first rule was to publish information that "presents the reality of Afghanistan" and does not shock "people’s feelings". According to this text, issued by the Department of Information and Culture (DIC), foreign journalists were not allowed to "enter private homes", "interview Afghan women without DIC permission", "take photos of or film human beings". Reporters were also required to inform the DIC of any travel they made outside of Kabul and respect the country’s "forbidden zones". The authorities also required that foreign correspondents work with local interpreters and assistants authorised by the DIC, that they register their equipment with the appropriate Ministry, and that they renew their accreditations every year. Finally, bureau chiefs of international media had to attend press conferences organised by the authorities and verify that only the name "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" appeared in articles and dispatches.
On 13 July, the Pakistan-based press agency Afghan Islamic Press announced that the Taliban ordered the "banning of the Internet" in Afghanistan. According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, this ban would prevent access to "vulgar, immoral and anti-Islamic" content. Only a few Afghans and foreigners working for international organisations had Internet access through Pakistani phone lines. In Kabul, civil servants, especially in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior, had already received the order to cut off all Internet connections.
In July, Muhammad Esma’il, correspondent with AFP in Kabul, decided to go into exile in France. The increasing pressure and threats he received from the Taliban made him fear that he would be arrested.
On 6 September, journalists who went to the Kabul court to cover the trial of the eight American, Australian and German members of the Christian humanitarian organisation Shelter Now International were kept away by the Taliban militia. The hearings, which started on 4 September, were being held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, Maulvi Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Taliban Foreign minister, was in favour of a public trial but Judge Saqib, in charge of the case, went against his wishes. In August, the Taliban had already ordered the Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain to leave the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused him of misinterpreting comments made by the Minister.
On 15 September, the Taliban ordered the departure of all foreign journalists, with the exception of reporters with the television station Al Jazeera. Afghan correspondents for foreign press agencies were allowed to work in Kabul under increased surveillance.
On 7 October, the United States army bombed Afghan radio and television broadcasting equipment, and buildings housing press offices in Kabul, Kandahar (south-east of the country), Jalalabad (east of the country) and Puli’Khomri (north of Kabul). Facilities of the official radio station Radio Shariat in Kabul were hit and programmes were interrupted. However, the official radio station in Mazar-i-Charif (north of the country) was not hit, in spite of heavy bombing there. Television facilities were also targeted, though no television had been broadcast since 1996. On 24 October, Radio Shariat, whose programmes consisted essentially of communiqués from the Taliban authorities and religious sermons, began broadcasting again, but no more than two hours a day. The Taliban were using a mobile transmitter. But, during the night of 25 October, this transmitter was destroyed by air strikes. According to the Taliban, two civilians were killed near the transmitter when they came to check the damage. The radio station resumed its daily broadcasts, this time for no more than one hour. Since then, the United States used the same frequencies as Radio Shariat to broadcast music, forbidden by the Taliban, and messages in favour of the military intervention as well as information for Afghan civilians. According to sources in Peshawar, buildings housing offices of publications favourable to the Taliban were also hit.
On 15 October, a Belgian television team was threatened with expulsion by Northern Alliance authorities, who had become very wary since the murder of Commander Shah Massoud by bogus journalists carrying Belgian passports. Pascale Bourgaux and Philippe Radelet, respectively journalist and cameraman with the Belgian television channel RTBF, were warned that they would be escorted to the Tajik border by a press officer in Khwaja Bahuddine (north-east of the country). This officer called the Belgian journalist a "terrorist" and criticised the inefficiency of her country during the investigation of the murder of Commander Massoud. The television team was held for several hours in the press centre. Shortly after this, the same official announced that the television team was again authorised to work, and that the problem resulted from a "misunderstanding".
On the morning of 12 November, the US army bombed Qatari television channel Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul. While the first troops of the Northern Alliance entered the city abandoned by the Taliban, American interceptors reportedly targeted the television’s offices. Although there were no victims, the station’s equipment was totally destroyed. The missile did not explode on impact. Some Al Jazeera officials said that the US army knew perfectly well where their offices were located. But according to some sources, the Taliban also had offices in the building. A US spokesman declared, on
13 November, that the building had been targeted because it sheltered Al Qaeda elements, and not with the intention of targeting the television channel. Two days later, the Al Jazeera correspondent in Kabul, Taysser Allouni, managed to escape to Pakistan. While fleeing the capital, Taysser Allouni was attacked and robbed. At the same time, his colleague, Youssef al-Shouli, the Al Jazeera correspondent in Kandahar, left the Taliban stronghold for Pakistan. The Al Jazeera officials feared retribution from Afghan fighters against Arab journalists.
On 12 November, BBC and Associated Press offices in Kabul suffered material damages after a bomb that targeted a neighbouring building exploded. William Reeve, a BBC journalist who was being interviewed when the explosion occurred, was not wounded. However, the journalists evacuated their offices until Northern Alliance troops arrived.
On 19 November, the new Kabul authorities informed Afghan journalists and interpreters that they had to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if they wanted to work with foreign media. In addition, they would have to be recommended by a Ministry official to register. The new Kabul authorities also checked and arrested Pakistani drivers and journalists who entered the country without visas. An official said that Pakistani journalists were not welcome in the country, even if they had received entry visas from the new authorities of Jalalabad province.
On 24 November, Ali al-Arab, journalist with the television channel Al Jazeera, arrived in Kabul, after two weeks of the channel’s absence from the Afghan capital. The Qatar-based television station had received an authorisation from the Northern Alliance.
Television, banned for five years, was placed under the authority of the Ministry of Information as soon as broadcasting resumed in November, and the Northern Alliance Ministry of Defence provided financial aid. Programmes are broadcast only in the evening, and consist essentially of children’s shows, programmes on public health, or presentations of the exploits of Northern Alliance soldiers in their fight against the Taliban.
On 5 December, American officers in charge of a Marine base in southern Afghanistan refused to allow a group of journalists to approach the helicopter containing the bodies of three American soldiers
killed in a shooting incident. After the journalists protested, the reporters of this American pool were locked up for several hours in a hut on the military camp. The next day, a Pentagon spokesperson apologised for the behaviour of the officers who, according to him, "overreacted to protect the privacy of the victims’ families."
On 12 December, two foreign television teams came under machine-gun fire while working on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The reporter for the English TV channel Sky News was interrupted by gunshots during a live broadcast. Security forces near the hotel did not identify the origin of these gunshots. Live broadcasts from the roof of the hotel were no longer permitted.
In late December, a group of women from Kabul launched a women’s magazine called Seerat (Attitude) with, on the cover, the drawing of an Afghan woman tied up with ropes but freed with a pen. Five hundred copies of this one-sheet, recto-verso weekly were printed and sold for approximately 0.10 euros. The three journalists asked for an authorisation from the Ministry of Culture, and a committee from the Ministry checked the articles.