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Afghan news anchor says he’s free after Taliban detention

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Afghan media personnel work inside a broadcast control room at Hamisha Bahar Local TV station in Jalalabad on December 11. AFP

Afghan news anchor says he’s free after Taliban detention

An Afghan television news presenter said he had been freed by the Taliban on March 18, a day after the hardline Islamists detained him for reporting that authorities had banned foreign dramas from local TV screens.

Rights groups have condemned a decline in media freedoms and increasing attacks on journalists since the Taliban swept back to power last year, with the UN calling for an end to “intimidation and threats against journalists” after the latest arrest.

TOLOnews, the country’s leading independent television network, said earlier that presenter Bahram Aman had been detained at the channel’s office on the evening of March 17 along with news director Khpolwak Sapai and legal adviser Nafi Khaleeq.

“The three were arrested for broadcasting news that the authorities had banned television channels from airing foreign drama serials,” TOLOnews said in a statement.

Sapai and Khaleeq were released later on March 17.

On March 18, Aman announced his own release.

“After almost 24 hours I have been released from prison. I will always be the voice of the people,” Aman wrote on his Facebook page.

A relative of Aman who asked not to be named confirmed that the journalist had been freed and that he had previously received threats from the Taliban.

TOLOnews also confirmed Aman’s release late on March 18, and the presenter made a brief appearance on the air.

“Our job is to deliver information to the people,” said Sapai in a statement issued by the network after Aman’s release.

“For this reason we always suggest that any issue related to the media or TOLOnews be shared through the ministry of information and culture.”

After seizing power in August, the Taliban banned TV stations from broadcasting dramas or soaps unless they had an Islamic theme, although it was loosely observed.

They appear now to be more strictly enforcing that directive, which TOLOnews reported on.

“We will not allow anyone to trample our Islamic and national values . . . that threaten the security of our people and our nation,” the Taliban’s intelligence agency said in a statement soon after Aman was released.

In recent days, many television channels across Afghanistan have stopped showing dramas and soaps.

Reports of the trio’s arrest prompted a strong reaction from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“The UN urges the release of all those taken away by gunmen and an end to the intimidation and threats against journalists and independent media,” it said on Twitter.

During the Taliban’s first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, there was little Afghan media to speak of and the Islamists banned television, movies and most other forms of entertainment as immoral.

Despite promising a softer version of their rule since taking power again, they have cracked down on journalists, critics of the regime, and women activists demanding rights to work and education.

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