The Taliban forced a veteran Australian journalist to expose her reporting

LONDON: An Australian journalist has claimed the Taliban threatened to jail her if she refused to tweet an apology for her previous reporting on the Afghan regime.

Lynne O’Donnell, an editor for Foreign Policy magazine which has covered the region extensively, traveled to Afghanistan on July 16 to report on how the country has changed since the Taliban regained control in August from l year, following the collapse of the Western-backed military. government.

She told the BBC she was ‘detained, abused and threatened’ after she went ‘in good faith’ to the Foreign Office to register as a foreign correspondent in the country, adding that she was accused of “breaking their laws” and “offending Afghan culture.

O’Donnell told the Committee to Protect Journalists that ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi refused to grant her registration, citing ‘inaccurate’ reports she made in 2021 about the plight of women and girls under the Taliban.

She added that during the meeting he bragged about being proud of the 2016 Taliban attacks on journalists working for Afghan broadcaster TOLONews in retaliation for similar coverage he published of sexual assaults. suspected by Taliban members. O’Donnell told CPJ she interpreted the pointed reference as a threat.

The next day, she was contacted by a Taliban intelligence official called Ahmad Zahir, who asked her to come to the General Intelligence Directorate for questioning. After refusing, Zahir called her back two days later to inform her that she could not leave the country if she did not comply.

She alleges that on July 19, Zahir and three other officers met and accompanied her to a GDI branch, where she was interrogated for four hours and ordered to use her Twitter account to post apologies for the articles she had written on the Taliban.

O’Donnell also claims that she was told to reveal her sources in Afghanistan, which she refused to do. “Throughout all,” she wrote of the interrogation in an article for Foreign Policy, “a man with a gun was never far away.”

She was released after tweeting the apology, which said her reporting was a “premeditated attempt at defamation and an affront to Afghan culture”, and that her articles were “written without any solid evidence or basis”. She also filmed a video indicating that she was not forced to make these statements and was allowed to travel to neighboring Pakistan on July 20.

“They were bullies. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to some degree. But I wasn’t terrified,” O’Donnell told the BBC.

“I knew I was taking a risk by going there: they lock up, they mistreat, they beat up, they kill Afghan journalists. They have a habit of taking strangers hostage to use as leverage. I had no idea this wouldn’t happen to me,” she added.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry denied that O’Donnell was asked to reveal her sources, but added that it believed her articles were ‘lies’ and that she had produced no evidence for many of the claims that were made there.

Balkhi tweeted that O’Donnell had “offered to rectify the situation by tweeting an apology”, adding that the Taliban “remains committed to the principles of freedom of the press”.

Human Rights Watch says Afghanistan has become an increasingly dangerous place since the Taliban returned to power, including for women and girls, journalists and minorities.

Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director in Madrid, said in a statement: “The Taliban must end its campaign of intimidation and abuse targeting Afghan and international journalists, and the intelligence agency GDI should be held responsible for the harassment of (its) agents. and detentions of members of the press.

“The Taliban should apologize to Lynne O’Donnell for her treatment in the country and allow all journalists (to) work without fear.”

O’Donnell, meanwhile, wrote in Foreign Policy this week about the experience, adding that she will not return to Afghanistan for her own safety and that of her sources, saying it would be “reckless”.