Director of Afghanistan's TOLOnews leaves Kabul with 'heavy heart'

Director of Afghanistan's TOLOnews leaves Kabul with 'heavy heart'
3 min read
15 October, 2022
The director of leading Afghan news outlet TOLOnews has 'left Kabul with a heavy heart' - saying that after years of championing a free press he 'couldn't continue' in the Taliban-ruled country.
Leading outlet Tolo News remained on air in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover [source: Getty]

The head of the leading Afghan news channel, TOLONews, announced on Friday that he had left Afghanistan, saying that after months of Taliban rule he "couldn’t continue". 

Khpalwak Sapai, a journalist for nearly 17 years, posted on his Twitter page that he had "left Kabul with a heavy heart". 

He is the director of TOLONews, a well-respected news organisation that continued to report after the Taliban’s takeover and despite the creeping crackdown on freedom of speech in Afghanistan. 

"I’ve given decades of my life to protect & advance free press & journalism in Afghanistan, but in the past month, I felt that I couldn’t continue," Khpolwak wrote on Twitter. 

He added: "I’m thanking all Afghan journalists for what they do for Afghanistan. More power!"

Sapai has been vocal about his discontent with Afghanistan’s new authorities. He previously told AFP that he was "forced" to make his staff cover up after a Taliban decree said female presenters must appear on air in full hijab and face covering veils. 

When speaking about the summer of 2021 when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan once again after being overthrown twenty years previously, the journalist said it was a "matter of honour" to keep TOLOnews going. 

"Most of our staff left in panic, and I realised that if we went off air, it would have a negative impact on the public," the veteran reporter wrote in an article for Voice of America. 

"Restrictions and pressure are increasing by day, as are threats, making it more difficult for journalists and the independent media to operate. If the situation doesn’t change materially, I’m not certain how much longer the independent media can survive," he said. 

Taliban authorities have imposed "broad and vague" media regulations on Afghan news outlets, according to Human Rights Watch.  This include rules which prohibit reports that "are contrary to Islam", "insult national figures" or "distort news content". 

A number of Afghan journalists are now "self-censoring and fear ending up in prison." the US-based rights watchdog said.

The Taliban captured Kabul on August 15 2021, and have since imposed a hardline Islamist system of government on Afghanistan. Over the past year, the country been plunged into political chaos and is suffering from a severe economic crisis, in part due to international sanctions.