|In this country decimated by 20 years of civil war, few freedoms of any
kind are tolerated and there is no independent local press. In the two years
since the ultraconservative Islamist Taliban militia took control of Kabul,
the nation's capital, the regime has consolidated its hold over most of the
country. The Taliban's rule has been marked by the stringent application
of its version of Islamic law: Women are confined to their homes, unless
they can be escorted by a close male relative, and enshrouded from head-to-toe
in a burqa gown. Public executions are held on Fridays in a sports
stadium before an audience of thousands. Kabul's streets are vigorously patrolled
by squads deployed by the Ministry for the Enforcement of Virtue and the
Suppression of Vice, ensuring that citizens adhere to the myriad rules
prohibiting everything from watching television to kite-flying.
The Taliban runs the Radio Voice of Shari'ah, which broadcasts propaganda,
recitations of Koranic verses, and poems in praise of Allah's law. At least
one radio station, Takhar Radio, is run by an anti-Taliban faction headed
by Gen. Ahmed Shah Massoud from his stronghold in the northeastern city of
Taloquan, but its broadcasting range is limited.
Foreign correspondents allowed into the country by the Taliban must be
accompanied by a government minder, and are forbidden to photograph people
or to speak to women. Journalists say that, in fact, the rules are haphazardly
enforced. Many journalists have attempted to skirt the Taliban's restrictions
by disguising their reason for visiting the country. But this became more
difficult after foreign aid workers were expelled from Afghanistan at the
end of September, raising the visibility of any outsider.
Although there have been sporadic attacks against foreign journalists --
including beatings, detentions, and expulsions -- victims are loath to report
attacks and thereby jeopardize their relationship with the Taliban. The murder
of Iranian journalist Mahmoud Saremi, however, gained international attention.
Stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif as the Afghanistan bureau chief for Iran's official
news agency, IRNA, Saremi was killed along with a group of Iranian diplomats
when the Taliban took over the city in early August. Human rights observers
believe his assassination was an attempt to block news of the subsequent
Some veteran journalists feel that, Saremi's murder notwithstanding, they
are in less physical danger now than they were during the years of widespread
civil war, when attacks could come from any one of numerous militias.