Facebook unveils curbs for Taliban-seized Afghanistan

Taliban kill relative of DW journalist in Afghanistan

By: AFP      Published: 10:17 AM, 20 Aug, 2021
Facebook unveils curbs for Taliban-seized Afghanistan
Afghan men fill up their details on a sheet of paper to register their names in order to leave the country in front of the British and Canadian embassies in Kabul.–AFP

Facebook released new security measures Thursday to protect users in Afghanistan after the lightning takeover of the country by the Taliban, who are already barred from the social media giant's platforms.

Following recommendations from activists, journalists and civil society groups, the company said users can now shield their posts from people they don't know.

Also, users of Facebook-owned Instagram in Afghanistan will receive notifications informing them of methods to protect their accounts. 

"We're working closely with our counterparts in industry, civil society and government to provide whatever support we can to help protect people," tweeted Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook's security policy.

He added that the company has temporarily removed the ability to view a user's friend list and search an accounts friends list in Afghanistan, to guard against the risk of targeting people possibly wanted by the Taliban.

The militants' takeover of Afghanistan poses tricky questions for tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter.

On WhatsApp, the account of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid appears to have been blocked, while the Financial Times reported that a Taliban WhatsApp helpline allowing citizens to report looting had been shut down.

WhatsApp's owner Facebook confirmed that it has for years viewed the Taliban as terrorists, and is blocking the group's accounts on these networks, as well as Instagram. 

The policy prompted a barbed response from Mujahid when asked if the Taliban would protect freedom of speech.

"The Facebook company, this question should be asked to them," he said.

Revenge fears grow

The Taliban are going house-to-house searching for opponents and their families, according to an intelligence document for the UN that deepened fears Friday Afghanistan's new rulers were reneging on pledges of tolerance. 

After routing government forces and taking over Kabul on Sunday to end two decades of war, the hardline Islamist movement's leaders have repeatedly vowed a complete amnesty as part of a well-crafted PR blitz.

Women have also been assured their rights will be respected, and that the Taliban will be "positively different" from their brutal 1996-2001 rule.

But with thousands of people still trying to flee the capital aboard evacuation flights, the report for the United Nations confirmed the fears of many.

The Taliban have been conducting "targeted door-to-door visits" of people who worked with US and NATO forces, according to a confidential document by the UN's threat assessment consultants seen by AFP.

The report, written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, said militants were also screening people on the way to Kabul airport. 

"They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families 'according to Sharia law'," Christian Nellemann, the group's executive director, told AFP.

"We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions."

- 'Lives under threat' -

The Taliban have denied such accusations in the past and have several times issued statements saying fighters were barred from entering private homes.

They also insist women and journalists have nothing to fear under their new rule, although several media workers have reported being thrashed with sticks or whips when trying to record some of the chaos seen in Kabul in recent days.

During their first stint in power, women were excluded from public life and girls banned from school. 

People were stoned to death for adultery, while music and television were also banned.

The United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the group in 2001 following the September 11 attacks for providing sanctuary to Al-Qaeda.

A video posted online by a high-profile woman journalist this week for a government-run television station offered a different reality to the Taliban's new image of tolerance.

"Our lives are under threat," Shabnam Dawran, an anchor in state-owned broadcaster RTA, said as she recounted being barred from the office.

"The male employees, those with office cards were allowed to enter the office but I was told that I couldn't continue my duty because the system has been changed," she said.

- Opposition -

There have been isolated signs of opposition to the Taliban in parts of Afghanistan this week.

Small groups of Afghans waved the country's black, red and green flags in Kabul and a handful of suburbs on Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of Afghanistan's independence -- on occasion in plain sight of patrolling Taliban fighters.

"My demand from the international community... is that they turn their attention to Afghanistan and not allow the achievements of 20 years to be wasted," said one protester.

Taliban fighters fired guns to disperse dozens of Afghans in Jalalabad who waved the flag on Wednesday.

Russia also emphasised on Thursday that a resistance movement was forming in the Panjshir Valley, led by deposed vice-president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a slain anti-Taliban fighter.

"The Taliban doesn't control the whole territory of Afghanistan," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

In the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, Ahmad Massoud, the son of Afghanistan's most famed anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, said he was "ready to follow in his father's footsteps".

"But we need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies," Massoud wrote in the Washington Post. 

Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban swept into the capital.

The United States said Thursday that it had airlifted about 7,000 people out of Kabul over the past five days.

Chaos erupted at the airport this week, as frantic Afghans searched for a way to leave the country. 

An Afghan sports federation announced a footballer for the national youth team had died after falling from a US plane he desperately clung to as it took off. 

Taliban kill relative of DW journalist

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have shot and killed a relative of a Deutsche Welle journalist while hunting for him, the German public broadcaster said.

The militants were conducting a house-to-house search for the journalist, who now works in Germany, DW said Thursday.

A second relative was seriously wounded but others were able to escape, it said, without giving details of the incident.

DW director-general Peter Limbourg condemned the killing, which he said showed the danger to media workers and their families in Afghanistan.

"The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves," he said.

"It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!"

The Taliban had raided the homes of at least three other DW journalists, the broadcaster said.

DW and other German media organisations have called on the German government to take swift action to help their Afghan staff.

After taking Kabul, the Taliban launched a public relations blitz promising media freedom and a pardon for all their opponents.

However, a confidential UN document seen by AFP says they are intensifying their search for people who worked with US and NATO forces.