Nan FM radio closure highlights media freedom tensions
Targeted intimidation technique or unpaid rent dispute? Conflicting claims regarding the forced closure of Nan FM Radio, Khost, illustrate the Taliban’s tensions with media entities
12 Feb 2024
Image credit: A radio station worker runs the sound equipment, 2013 by Patrice Clarke | COM:CT
On 16 January 2024, Nan FM, a local radio station in Khost province, reported on its Facebook that the Taliban's police had conducted a raid on the radio station. The radio station, which produces and broadcasts programs covering politics, society, culture, sports and religion on 89.1 FM in Khost and surrounding areas, claimed the police threw away all their equipment and subjected journalists to threats and arrests. A photo shared by Nan FM shows radio equipment on the street, with two armed police officers guarding the area. The news was subsequently shared across various social media and mainstream news outlets in the country. Afghanistan International published a video depicting a gathering of individuals, including Taliban members, in front of a residence, which reportedly housed the radio station.
Police and Taliban officials claimed closure was due to rent dispute
Promptly (on 16 January 2024), Kabul police spokesperson Khalid Zadran provided a statement explaining the incident on behalf of the Khost Police Headquarters: a legal dispute had arisen between Aslam Qanuni, the owner of Nan FM Radio, and Azizullah, the proprietor of the residence housing the radio station. Zadran added that Khost’s primary court had ultimately ruled in favour of vacating the premises, a decision enforced by the Khost Police Headquarters.
Similarly, Shabir Ahmad Osmani, the Taliban's Director of Information and Culture for Khost Province, posted on X that the Nan FM Radio building has been vacated in compliance with court orders related to an ongoing legal case. Osmani assured that there would be no impediment to the radio broadcasts and that the station could resume broadcasting from an alternative location, in adherence to relevant media laws.
The same day, 16 January, a pro-Taliban account with over 26,000 followers, reported that two Nan FM Radio journalists had been arrested in relation to the legal case. The claim asserted that the station's owner had failed to settle the house rent since the collapse of the Republican government in August 2021. AW has not yet found any information regarding the status of the detained employees.
AW has not yet found any information regarding the status of the detained employees.
Nan FM instead claimed closure followed Taliban threats and detentions of staff
In contrast, in a separate post to their Facebook on 16 January 2023, Nan FM Radio claimed that the Taliban's police chief had issued threats towards Aslam Qanuni, the owner of Nan FM Radio, over the phone, and imposed a ban on radio broadcasts. The post added that police abducted two journalists during the raid, and that an administrative worker has been held in the Taliban's prison for the past five days.
This latter claim was potentially corroborated by a Hamasa Media report from 17 January 2024, which stated that Safir Mohammad Zadran, the brother of the station's proprietor, had been in Taliban custody for a week. It is plausible that Mohammad Zadran is the administrator alluded to in Nan Radio's statement, who was reportedly arrested prior to the raid, though Nan FM refrained from disclosing the identities of the apprehended individuals in both Facebook posts.
Also on 17 January 2024, Nan FM Radio posted on Facebook clarifying that the court letter which had reportedly served as the basis for the Taliban’s police raid on the radio station, was outdated, being dated 6 March 2023 (see below). In another Facebook post on the same day, the station published a detailed statement about the letter and incident. The statement urged international media institutions, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, the United Nations, media support agencies in Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s Ministry of Information Culture to hold Khost police accountable for the destruction of radio equipment and the broadcasting disruption. It emphasised the importance of not remaining silent in the face of such “arbitrary actions,” and advocated for the support of freedom of expression.
NGOs and prominent voices condemned the Taliban closure of the radio station
On 16 January 2024, the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization (AJSO) voiced its concern over the Taliban’s “attack” on Nan FM Radio station. The AJSO decried the action as a breach of the fundamental principles of freedom of expression. It emphasised that any legal issues should be addressed through the proper channels, such as the Media Violations Commission. On 17 January 2024, in a statement, the International Press Institute (IPI) also condemned the Taliban’s “raid” on Nan FM Radio, and called on the Taliban to “cease its campaign of harassing and intimidating the country’s media.”
Prominent voices on social media opposing the Taliban also strongly condemned the group's
“attack” on the radio station. Rahmatullah Andar, the former spokesperson of Afghanistan's National Security Council, shared that the Taliban had “conquered” Nan FM Radio in Khost, damaged their equipment, and relocated the radio station's employees to an undisclosed location. Similarly, Mohammad Halim Fidai, the former governor of Khost province, voiced his disapproval of the Taliban's raid to his 250,000 followers, stating that the Taliban, through the closure of schools and media outlets, aimed to keep the population uninformed and in darkness.
Meanwhile, Taliban accounts upheld the legitimacy of the evacuation
Meanwhile, pro-Taliban accounts emphasised the de facto authority’s official stance, sharing the letter and asserting that the evacuation of the radio station was the result of legal issues. On 7 January 2024, the Taliban's spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, announced that a new media law had been drafted and is currently pending approval from the group's supreme leader. Mujahid mentioned that the law was formulated through collaboration among representatives of the Taliban’s Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Public Affairs.
The Nan FM Radio incident underscores the challenges faced by media outlets in Afghanistan
In its annual report released on 29 December 2023, the Afghanistan Journalists Centre highlighted that journalists and media professionals in Afghanistan faced substantial violations of their fundamental rights and legal safeguards throughout the year. The report documented at least 168 violations of journalists' rights in 2023, including one journalist's death, 19 injuries, 87 threats, and 61 arrests. The report's findings asserted that in 2023, the Taliban's General Directorate of Intelligence and Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Evil played direct and indirect roles in suppressing media and freedom of expression. According to the report, this suppression was accompanied by concerted efforts to enforce media directives with notable severity.
In light of the findings of the Afghanistan Journalists Centre’s Annual Report for 2023, the case of the forced closure of Nan FM radio evokes the evolving tension between media entities and the Taliban. While the Nan FM station owner endeavoured to establish that the incident was aimed at suspending radio broadcasts, the Taliban's official stance seeks to portray it as a legal matter of unpaid rent and not an issue of media freedom.
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