Reporter said that the Taliban forced her to publicly retract accurate articles

The Taliban forced a longtime war correspondent to publicly retract some of her articles this week, telling her she would go to jail or, she said, in a crackdown on press freedom. latest in Afghanistan.

The reporter, Lynne O’Donnell, an Australian who writes for Foreign Policy and other publications, explained her plight on Wednesday, after she safely left Afghanistan.

“They dictate. I tweeted,” she wrote on Twitter. “They don’t like it. Deleted, edited, retweeted. Make a video about me saying I’m not forced. Do it again too. “

In one article On Wednesday in Foreign Policy, O’Donnell wrote that Taliban intelligence agents “detained, abused and threatened me.”

She said the Taliban were interested in articles she wrote in 2021 and 2022 about the threat forced marriage by Taliban fighters and the violence faced LGBTQ people live in Afghanistan. She wrote that one intelligence officer told her “there are no gay people in Afghanistan,” while another told her he would kill anyone he knew to be gay.

A spokesman for the Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The forced withdrawal of a Western journalist’s application emphasized increasingly limited press coverage in Afghanistan, where the new leadership promised to allow freedom of the media instead harassing and detaining journalists.

United Nations report released on Wednesday found that in the 10 months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, 173 journalists and media workers have suffered human rights violations, including arrest, torture and intimidation. Six journalists were killed during that period, five of them killed by ISIS fighters, and the other due to unclear circumstances.

“What the Taliban leadership says is inconsistent with the lower-level Taliban’s approach to the media,” said Susanna Inkinen, Afghanistan adviser to International Media Support, a nonprofit organization. so the situation is getting worse and worse, with a lot of censorship.” .

She said the amount of freedom journalists get depends on the province and the local Taliban. “People are much more careful about what they report, how they report,” she said. “There are issues people don’t talk about anymore.”

Ms Inkinen said she is not aware of any other cases where a reporter has been forced to publicly roll back a report.

In one of the coerced tweets, posted on Tuesday, Ms O’Donnell wrote: “I apologize for the 3 or 4 reports I wrote alleging that the authorities are now forcefully marrying you girls. underage girls and the use of underage girls as sex slaves by Taliban commanders. This was a premeditated attempt to assassinate the character and insult Afghan culture. “

“These stories were written without any solid evidence or basis and without any attempt to verify the cases through on-site investigation or face-to-face meetings,” she said. with the alleged victims”.

Ravi Agrawal, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, said the publication was based on O’Donnell’s work and has consistently covered Afghanistan.

“The fact that the Taliban forced her to retract her report via a tweet speaks for itself,” Agrawal said.

“We will continue to cover Afghanistan from afar and publish expert analysis as we have long ago,” he added. Lynne’s challenge is to confirm that reporting from within Afghanistan is becoming more and more dangerous. “

In an interview from Pakistan on Wednesday, Ms O’Donnell said the ordeal lasted about four hours.

“The only thing that comes to my mind is that my only defense is that they are hungry for diplomatic recognition, which will give them legitimacy as the Afghan government, and They don’t have that.”

Ms. O’Donnell, now living in London, was director of the Afghanistan bureau of the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse from 2009 to 2017. She also reported on the withdrawal of troops from the country last year. .

She returned to the capital Kabul on Sunday to see what has happened to the country in the year since she left.

She said local journalists were detained, beaten and killed, many of which had to leave the country.

“Their media organizations have been shut down or forced to accept whatever line the Taliban give them,” O’Donnell said, adding: “It’s a black hole. The light is off. “

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said both Afghan and international journalists face increasing restrictions.

“For human rights groups, what is most alarming are the restrictions that make it increasingly difficult to know what is going on across the country,” he said.

Mr Sifton said that despite concerns that Ms O’Donnell had been detained, the risk was greater for the people she spoke to and the local staff who worked with her and remained in Afghanistan.

“There are still working Afghan journalists trying to do their jobs, and they are facing greater threats than any foreigners,” he said.

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