Decrees of Unfreedom

How the Afghan media navigates Taliban rule

The newspaper Etilaat-e-Roz, like many other Afghan media outlets, has moved part of its staff out of the country. MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES / GETTY IMAGES
30 November, 2021

SULTAN ALI JAWADI, the editor of Nasim Radio, made a phone call on the evening of 12 August to inquire about the state of fighting in Daikundi, a province in central Afghanistan. The person he called was already a former government official, who told him that the local government had abandoned the province, as had most journalists. Jawadi and his three-member team had been left behind. They remained in the office and stopped broadcasting.

The following morning, a Taliban official called to ask why the private radio station was off the air. He summoned Jawadi and his team to the local administrative building. “I had reported on the Taliban for years, but I had never seen or met the Taliban before,” Jawadi told me. He changed out of his suit into local clothes. Once his relatives found out about the summons, they began crying. “We were not sure that we would come back alive,” he said.

The Taliban governor ordered Jawadi to return to the office and get Nasim Radio broadcasting again, since, he said, “we need you.” The station was trusted as a news source in the province, and the Taliban wanted it to spread the message of the amnesty they had announced as well as of their attempts at governing the province. “It was the most difficult news story that I wrote,” Jawadi said, adding that it took him an entire afternoon to prepare the bulletin. “I was afraid. I was weeping while writing the news. We had lost all of our journalism and our freedom of speech.”

Nasim Radio was already battling financial pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having lost a significant portion of its advertisement revenue. Now, months into Taliban rule, it broadcasts news for just two hours a day. It stopped airing a political talk show, an entertainment programme and a public forum, in which listeners would call in to complain about the problems they face in their daily lives. The station is the only remaining news outlet in the entire province. It tries to balance maintaining its independence and not making the Taliban angry. “For now,” Jawadi told me, “we are just trying to stay alive.”