Afghanistan’s Shifting Media Law

In August 2021, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, claiming the capitol after President Ashraf Ghani left the country.[1] Among the changes that resulted from the shift in power was a difference in the country’s rules regulating journalism and journalists. Specifically, the Taliban released eleven rules that journalists in Afghanistan had to abide by in their reporting.[2] The new rules prevent publishing topics that the Taliban feel conflict with Islam or insult national personalities and push journalists to coordinate news reports with the government media office.[3] These directives replaced the previous Afghan media law and contradict international humanitarian law.


International humanitarian law protects journalists through two provisions explicitly mentioning “media personnel” and through granting journalists the same rights and protections as civilians in international armed conflicts.[4] Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stresses the importance of freedom of communication about public and political issues among citizens, candidates, and officials.[5] Furthermore, it recognizes the right of free press to comment on public issues and to inform public opinion without censorship or restraint.[6] While international humanitarian law provides rules outlining the protection of journalists, there is often a failure to enforce violations.[7]


Prior to the Taliban’s rules, Afghanistan’s media law granted freedom of expression.[8] For instance, citizens were not required to submit their work to state authorities prior to publishing and had a right to access information from state departments.[9] In comparison to international standards, the media law did not pose any clear contradictions. However, even with these rights, in 2017, the Afghan government was the largest perpetrator of violence against journalists, second only to the Taliban.[10]


The Taliban’s rules differ from previous Afghan media law specifically in the submission of writing to authorities prior to publishing and the reduction in editorial freedom to speak out against national figures. Additionally, the rules are vaguer, calling for “truth and balance” in reporting, for example.[11] However, without any real standards indicating what “truth” and “balance” look like, the rules come across as a broad avenue for persecution and censorship.[12] Furthermore, since the Taliban returned to power, there has been a surge of attacks on journalists and media outlets. Press conferences have been blocked, journalists have been beaten, jailed, and killed, women who had jobs in media have stopped working, and increasing levels of fear and self-censorship have resulted.[13]


Ultimately, while the previous Afghan media law meets international standards more than the Taliban’s rules, there is a common issue with persecution of journalists under both laws. The groups that are usually responsible for targeting journalists are often the ones who are in power. Under the Taliban’s current rule, the laws governing the media continue to change rapidly. In early February 2022, the Taliban announced that Afghanistan would be returning to “previous media law.”[14] While it is unclear whether “previous media law” refers to their rules, or to the previous administrations’ media law, there is an ongoing need for the protection of journalists through the law.

[1]Julia Hollingsworth, Who Are the Taliban and How Did They Take Control of Afghanistan So Swiftly?, CNN, (last updated Aug. 24, 2021, 1:07 PM).

[2] Carlotta Gall, New Taliban Guidelines Stir Fear About the Future of Press Freedom, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2021, 10:25 PM),

[3] Id.

[4] How Does International Humanitarian Law Protect Journalists in Armed-Conflict Situations?, Int’l Comm. of the Red Cross (July 27, 2010),

[5] UNHRC, General Comment No. 34: Article 19 (Freedoms of Opinion and Expression), 102nd Sess, adopted Sept. 12, 2011, CCPR/C/GC/34,

[6]  Id. at 4.

[7] How Does International Humanitarian Law Protect Journalists in Armed-Conflict Situations?, supra note 4.

[8] The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 2004, art. 34.

[9] Id.

[10] Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, Afghanistan: Media Legislation, Media Landscapes, (last visited Feb. 5, 2022).

[11] Gall, supra note 2.

[12] Id.

[13] See Taliban Blocks Press Conference by Afghanistan Journalists, Comm. to Protect Journalists (Jan. 27, 2022, 3:21 PM),; Masood Farivar, How the Taliban Control Afghan Media, VOA (Oct. 12, 2021, 2:39 PM),'s%20so%2Dcalled%20%E2%80%9C11,has%20not%20been%20officially%20confirmed; Gall, supra note 2.

[14] Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Addresses Journalist Safety Committee, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, (Feb. 2, 2022),