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Within days of taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban began to attack activists and journalists. They rely on local mosques and police officers to find information on those they perceive to be a threat. The Observers editorial staff spoke with five activists and journalists from several parts of Afghanistan, all of whom say the Taliban have started their research.
The Taliban killed a relative of a journalist of Deutsche Welle in Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. They had come to pick up the journalist at his home, without knowing that he was now working in Germany. They shot and wounded another of his relatives, while members of his family managed to escape. The Taliban searched the homes of at least three Deutsche Welle journalists, German media reported.
The Islamist group began to make door to door to track down Afghans who aided foreign forces, according to a report by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyzes prepared for the UN and consulted by AFP on August 20, 2021. The report indicates that the Taliban have “priority lists” of individuals that ‘they want to stop among the “collaborators of the old regime”.
This video posted to Facebook on August 16, 2021 shows the Taliban checking vehicles at a checkpoint in Kabul.
Yet the Taliban have tried to be reassuring towards the international community: during a press conference on August 17, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid assured that “all those who are in the opposite camp are forgiven from A to Z. We will not seek revenge. “
While leaving Afghanistan remains difficult, auxiliaries who have worked for foreign embassies or armies, but also journalists and activists stuck in the country live in fear that the Taliban will come knocking on their doors.
“Taliban fighters go to the mosque to ask worshipers if they know any activists”
Zarghuna (first name has been changed), a human rights activist, has been in hiding since the Taliban entered the town where she lives in western Afghanistan. For security reasons, the Observers editorial team has chosen not to name places in this article.
I am known in my city for my work as a human rights activist, everyone knows who I am in my neighborhood and on my street. When the Taliban entered our town, I hid in a friend’s house because I knew they would come and get us sooner or later. A day or two after I moved, neighbors I had kept in touch with told me that Taliban fighters were going to the neighborhood mosque to ask the worshipers if they knew any activists, journalists or anyone who was involved. worked with foreigners – in NGOs or with foreign armed forces. Apparently the Taliban told them that it is their duty under Islam to give them this information.
They go to mosques to find information because they think the people they find there are their fans, support them and will cooperate with them. I don’t know if they managed to find my old address. On the other hand, they managed to find the address of one of my colleagues via Taliban supporters in the mosques. On August 18, the Taliban raided his house, but luckily he had already moved and the house was empty.
The Taliban have started going door to door to find activists. They haven’t officially announced it and they don’t openly, they’re just trying to track down the people they’re looking for in a targeted way to avoid making too many waves.
Mosques are a strategic communication tool for the Taliban: Rashid (first name has been changed), a human rights defender, reports that a Taliban used the mosque in his neighborhood to inform about their intentions:
During Friday prayers, a Taliban imam openly said, “We have a list of people who have collaborated with foreigners, they are corrupt.” He called on the faithful to cooperate with the Taliban to help them find journalists and activists.
“Corrupt police officers are employed by the Taliban”
Reza (first name has been changed) is a journalist in Afghanistan. He explained to the Observers editorial staff that the Taliban are relying on the police to hunt down journalists:
My friends told me that corrupt police officers were employed by the Taliban. They use Afghan police resources and files to gain information about activists and journalists: where they live, where they have worked and with whom. They also get information about their religion, ethnicity and political affiliations.
With the lists they created with the help of the police officers, they started going from house to house. I don’t see any other option but to try to leave the country. If I stay, I risk not only my life, but the safety of my family as well.
In other areas, the Taliban take a more conciliatory approach towards journalists. Ahmad (first name has been changed), a journalist, told the Observers editorial staff that in his town, the Taliban summoned journalists and activists to reassure them, but he is not convinced:
So far, in our region, I have not yet heard of persecution, or of attempts to arrest journalists or activists. On the surface, there is nothing to worry about, but in reality it is terrifying.
A few days ago, a local Taliban commander summoned all the journalists and activists in our region for a meeting with him. We went there and at first the atmosphere seemed nice and friendly. He told us that we could continue to work, as long as we were doing it within Sharia law, and under the supervision of the Taliban. But in the middle of the meeting, armed men entered the room showing us their weapons. The message was clear: you can do whatever you want, but don’t mess with the Taliban. Now I’m even more scared than before.
“They reproduce exactly what they did in 1996”
For Mustafa (first name has been changed), a journalist in eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s methods are nothing new:
Maybe some journalists or activists are too young to remember, but in the 1990s the Taliban did exactly the same. At first they behaved well, they were nice to people, including journalists and activists. Then, once they felt their position was secure, they showed what they really are. The Taliban have not changed, and there is no such thing as a ‘moderate Taliban’. They reproduce exactly what they did in our region in 1996.
Over the past few weeks, journalists have already been targeted by suspected Taliban: Nematullah Hemat, of the private television station Ghargasht TV, was kidnapped in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, and Toofan Omar, director of the private radio station Paktia Ghag, was assassinated in Kabul, according to the Afghan authorities.
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