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Afghanistan: Brief takeover of Kunduz leaves a trail of destruction

15 October 2015

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[Reports from Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are pasted below]

Reporters Without Borders

Taliban target media during Kunduz takeover
Published on Tuesday 29 September 2015.

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s attacks by the Taliban on several media outlets, especially Roshani Radio and TV, when they seized control of Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan and capital of Kunduz province.

As they overran the city, the Taliban occupied government buildings and the headquarters of several news media, including Roshani Radio and TV, an independent broadcaster, where they torched and destroyed much of the equipment.

Founded by Sadiqa Sherzai, Roshani Radio and TV normally broadcasts 20 hours a day and provides a great deal of coverage of women’s issues. Nine of its 12 employees are women.

Reporters Without Borders is very worried about the situation of the media in Kunduz, which continues to be controlled by the Taliban, and about the fate of several journalists of whom there has been no news since yesterday morning.

Around 100 journalists work in Kunduz province, which has at least five radio stations, three TV stations and five newspapers, including two dailies. According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the armed forces were unable to protect journalists and media outlets.

“We remind all parties to the conflict – both state and non-state actors – of their obligation to protect journalists,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Afghanistan desk.

“International law – including the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols – forbids deliberate attacks by state or non-state actors against media outlets, journalists and other civilians. Attacks on civilian targets constitute war crimes.”

Rahimullah Samandar, the head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, told Reporters Without Borders: “Some of the journalists were forced to flee by their own means to Kunduz airport, to which the government troops had retreated. All of the media have stopped working.”

The seizure of Kunduz has been hailed as a “great victory” by Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who was added to the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom” this summer after it was reported that Mullah Omar died in 2013.

The Taliban have carried out many previous attacks on media outlets in Afghanistan and have ordered their subordinates to target the media. Areas controlled by the Taliban or by Islamic State and have become information “black holes.”

Afghanistan’s leading journalists’ associations, including the Afghan Independent Journalists Association and the Afghanistan National Journalists Union, have condemned the attacks in Kunduz and have appealed for assistance for Roshani Radio and TV.

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Amnesty International

Afghanistan: Taliban tactics put civilians in harm’s way

29 September 2015, 17:48 UTC

The Taliban are exposing civilians to danger during the conflict in Kunduz by hiding in people’s houses and conducting door-to-door searches for Afghan security personnel or government staff, Amnesty International said.

With fighting ongoing in Kunduz as Afghan security forces try to recapture the provincial capital, reports from local residents indicate that Taliban fighters have hidden in people’s houses to blend in with the civilian population. Government officials have also confirmed at least 16 civilian casualties, but the actual number could be much higher with the UN trying to confirm reports of at least 110 civilians killed.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the horrific violence that is unfolding in Kunduz. By hiding in the residential homes Taliban fighters are exposing civilians to attacks. There are also reports of Taliban conducting house-by-house searches looking for people linked to the Afghan security forces or government.
David Griffiths, South Asia Research Director at Amnesty International

“Civilians are bearing the brunt of the horrific violence that is unfolding in Kunduz. By hiding in the residential homes Taliban fighters are exposing civilians to attacks. There are also reports of Taliban conducting house-by-house searches looking for people linked to the Afghan security forces or government,” said David Griffiths, South Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

Under international law, all parties to a conflict are required to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population under their control against the effects of attacks.

Looting of NGOs, media office torched

Since it launched its assault on Kunduz yesterday, sources have confirmed that the Taliban have looted offices and seized equipment and vehicles belonging to NGOs, including humanitarian organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Such acts are prohibited under international law.

The Taliban have also burned down the offices and destroyed most of the equipment of Roshani TV and Radio in Kunduz. The independent media outlet was founded in 2002 and was known for focusing mainly on women’s issues.

“Attacks targeting civil society groups and the media must end immediately. These organizations are carrying out vital work in Afghanistan and it is outrageous that they should be targeted in this way,” said David Griffiths.

“The torching of Roshani TV and Radio’s offices is a blatant attack on freedom of expression and a deeply ominous signal on women’s human rights. It is very worrying that mere hours after seizing control of the city, the Taliban already appear to be targeting independent media.”

Using humanitarian vehicles

Pictures on social media also purport to show Taliban fighters using a vehicle belonging to the ICRC. Killing, injuring or capturing an adversary while posing as medical workers – known as perfidy – is a war crime.

“It is crucial that all parties to the conflict respect the independence and impartiality of humanitarian organizations. Under no circumstance should the logo of the ICRC be used by any combatant,” said David Griffiths.

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - October 15, 2015

Afghanistan: Taliban Flips The Switch On Women’s Radio, TV In Kunduz

A radio station run by women was one of the first places targeted by the Taliban when it briefly seized the northern Afghan city of Kunduz late last month. (This is an illustrative photo showing a woman’s radio station in Herat)

By Mustafa Sarwar and Farangis Najibullah

October 07, 2015

What had begun as an ordinary workday turned quickly into real-life drama for the employees of Roshani, a women-run radio and TV station in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

Residents knew that the Taliban, which had surrounded the city for weeks, were closing in. But Roshani director Sediqa Sherzai says the militant group’s advance on Kunduz on September 28 nevertheless came as a surprise.

"The Taliban attack began in the early hours," Sherzai recalls. "But we believed the fighting would take place outside the city and that government forces would force the Taliban to retreat."

Instead, the Taliban swept in, and it quickly became clear that Roshani was among the first in line for destruction. The militants set fire to the radio building, destroying the station that Sherzai founded in 2008, but she and her employees escaped with their lives.

Like many other Kunduz residents, Sherzai had headed to work as usual, only to realize that on this morning something was different. "Intense gunfire could be heard," Sherzai says, and soldiers and tanks were deployed in the area.

"The radio station was located next to several government buildings," she explains, and fighting was raging at a nearby police station.

Ironically, the armed militants who were moving in on the building that housed Roshani may have unintentionally saved the station’s employees.

Upon spotting them, Sherzai realized she would be unable to enter her workplace, and sounded the alarm.

"I called my colleagues, who were at work, and told them to leave the station and come to my home," she says.

It was a narrow escape for the employees of Roshani — which has nine women, including Sherzai, on staff. Eventually, Sherzai and her colleagues made their way out of the city as bullets flew and rocket fire rained down around them.

Sherzai, 35, escaped to Kabul with her husband, daughter, and two of her colleagues. Others headed for the neighboring Balkh and Takhar provinces.

"Eyewitnesses told me that armed men looted the station’s equipment before the building was burned down," Sherzai says. "Most of the equipment was brand new and some was not even unpacked."

The attack on the private station came only two months after Sherzai, boosted by the success of her popular FM radio station, launched a television channel.

The station’s radio and television programs focused on women and youth issues, and broadcast social, cultural, sport, and entertainment programs to Kunduz city and the nearby districts of Chardarah, Khanabad, and Aliabad.

Sherzai says the new equipment was earmarked for a training center she was planning to launch in early October.

"We were planning to train women in video recording and editing," Sherzai says. "We had already signed a contract with a private company that provided the necessary equipment for us."

Difficult Road Ahead

Although Kunduz was retaken by Afghan forces within days, fighting continues. And its capture — making it the first major city to be taken by insurgents since the Taliban was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 — has left Sherzai uncertain of the future.

"I have no idea what happens next," she says.

The Taliban attack on Roshani has been condemned by media watchdogs, including Afghanistan’s Journalists Center, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Amnesty International.

RSF said many journalists have fled Kunduz, and that at least five radio stations, three television stations, and five newspapers have all stopped operating in the city since the Taliban takeover.

Sherzai is anxiously watching developments in her hometown from afar.

"Even after government forces fully retake Kunduz, I can’t see myself and other reporters rushing back to resume our work until the government fully wipes the Taliban out of our province and ensures our safety," she says.

Looking ahead, Sherzai predicts a difficult road ahead if she is able to return and pick up the pieces.

"The Taliban erased many years of our efforts to build women’s media in Kunduz," she says. "When things get back to normal in the city, we have to start all over again from zero."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar

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see also:

Dispatches: Taliban Unrolls its Media Hit List (HRW Dispatches)