Taliban pull two TV channels for 'violating Islamic values'

Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021. [AFP]

Two Afghan television channels have been taken off the airwaves for "violations against Islamic and national values", a Taliban government spokesman said Thursday.

Rights monitors warn Taliban authorities have been cracking down on media freedoms since their return to power in 2021 as they enforce an austere vision of Islamist rule.

Ministry of Information and Culture spokesman Khubaib Ghufran said the "Barya" and "Noor" TV channels had been suspended on Tuesday for failing to abide by "journalistic principles".

"They had programmes creating confusion among the public and their owners are abroad," he told AFP. "The media violation commission suspended their operations."

He said "their owners have even taken stands as opponents" of the Taliban government and "until their owners come here, and answer the questions posed to them, their operations will be suspended".

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) said in a statement Afghanistan's media commission had repeatedly warned "Barya" for airing remarks by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a once-powerful warlord and former prime minister, about the Taliban government.

"Noor" had received warnings because it broadcast music and the uncovered faces of female presenters, the AFJC said.

The "Barya" channel is owned by Hekmatyar's son Habiburrahman Hekmatyar.

"Barya had religious and national values in mind, not Taliban values," Habiburrahman Hekmatyar, who lives in exile and whose father has increasingly found himself at odds with Taliban authorities, said on social media platform X.

"The only thing you won't see from us is silence," he said.

The "Noor" channel is owned by Salahuddin Rabbani, who also lives in exile and served as Afghanistan's foreign minister under the former US-backed government from 2015 to 2019.

His father, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was president of Afghanistan in the 1990s but fled the country as the Taliban surged to power for the first time and ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated in 2011 by a bomber, posing as a Taliban peace envoy, with explosives packed in his turban.

The AFJC said the suspension of the two channels "infringes on the country's mass media laws and is a blatant attempt to suppress freedom of the press".

Curbs introduced by Taliban authorities have effectively banned music, while the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued an order in May 2022 for women TV presenters to cover their faces.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said last month Afghanistan's media landscape is being "suffocated by repressive Taliban directives".

Many journalists fled Afghanistan, fearing repercussions for their reporting as the Taliban's two-decade insurgency ended with the collapse of the foreign-backed government in August 2021.

Many of those who remained have been detained by Taliban authorities since their return. An RSF tally says two journalists are currently being held in detention in Afghanistan.