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Kabul, Afghanistan in 2007. (photo by Nasim Fekrat via Flickr)

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The literature and freedom of expression organization PEN America is urging the international community to “act swiftly” to protect writers, journalists, and cultural figures in Afghanistan as the country falls to the Taliban regime. Two of PEN International’s members, Abdullah Atefi and Dawa Khan Menapal, were reportedly murdered by Taliban forces in a span of two days earlier this month.

“The many courageous Afghan writers, cultural actors, journalists, and activists — especially women — who have exercised and defended the right to freedom of expression are facing grave and imminent threats,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of free expression programs, in a statement.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after two decades of war, part of a deal struck by former President Trump and carried out by the Biden administration, paved the way for the fast-moving Taliban takeover. Over the last 10 days, the insurgency has seized a slew of major cities, ultimately taking the capital Kabul this Sunday as former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Tens of thousands are scrambling to escape, among them both Afghan and foreign journalists, writers, and other cultural workers who fear they will be targeted by the conservative regime.

The prospects for creative freedom and human rights under Taliban rule, Lopez says, are “deeply alarming.” More than 50 media outlets in areas controlled by the group have closed in the past three months. Remaining independent radio stations have been forced to broadcast Taliban propaganda and banned from including female voices, PEN notes.

Beyond the threats to free speech, press, and education, the Taliban’s persecution of journalists and writers — especially dissenting voices — represents a danger to their physical lives. PEN is mourning two of its members, poet Abdullah Atefi and journalist Dawa Khan Menapal, both reportedly murdered by Taliban forces this month.

On the night of August 4, Atefi was taken from his home in the Chora District of Uruzgan Province and shot on the street. Though the Taliban denied involvement, Afghanistan’s vice president Amrullah Saleh attributed the murder to the militant group. Menapal, who was heading the Afghan government’s Media and Information Center, was killed by gunmen while on his way to Friday prayers in Kabul just days later. The Taliban openly claimed responsibility for Menapal’s assassination.

PEN, the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association, and other entities have asked the US government to expedite visa processing for individuals at risk and grant humanitarian parole — an exception that allows people in danger to enter the US with a visitor visa.

“Broad action is necessary from the US and the international community to protect those who are most likely to be targeted, as well as to defend the fundamental rights of the Afghan people,” Lopez said.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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