Bipartisan group of lawmakers call on Biden to ensure journalists safe passage out of Afghanistan

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers are urging President Biden to ensure that journalists working in Afghanistan, now under control of the Taliban, are extracted safely amid an increasingly dangerous environment.

The letter was written by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus. 

“We believe it is critically important that the United States make all effort to protect and evacuate Americans and our Afghan partners who have served alongside Americans for the past two decades. Our country owes a significant debt to these individuals who aided the U.S. military and diplomatic efforts as translators, drivers, and partners in the region. We must ensure their evacuation to safe harbor,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the White House this week.

“We are writing to urge the same assistance be extended to journalists and their partners in Afghanistan. These individuals have spent twenty years reporting stories that needed to be told, and in doing so, in many cases they have exposed themselves and their families to significant risk.” 

The news comes after the Taliban made significant military gains in Afghanistan last week, taking over large cities as they closed in on Kabul. On Sunday, the insurgent group wrangled control of Kabul and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the nation. 

On Wednesday, he reportedly resurfaced in the United Arab Emirates. 

Since their takeover on Sunday, harrowing scenes from videos and photographs posted to social media and circulated through the media showed thousands of Afghans rushing to Kabul international airport to escape. 

The U.S. Embassy on in Afghanistan said Wednesday that “it cannot guarantee safe passage” to the Kabul airport amid efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens and partners. 

The bipartisan group said that journalists face “imminent danger” as the situation in the region continues to deteriorate. 

“Journalists and media support staff who assisted media organizations are in imminent danger as Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. These courageous individuals should receive safe passage to Hamid Karzai International Airport, and be transported to safety outside of the country if they request it, and be considered as priority applicants for P-2 designation,” the letter continued.

“This safe passage should be offered to all individuals employed by media organizations, as well as Afghan journalists and support staff who have put themselves in grave danger for reporting on the Taliban and the ongoing conflict in the country,” it said. 

Earlier this week, the publisher of The Washington Post wrote on behalf of his news organization as well as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal in an email to national security adviser Jake Sullivan imploring the White House to oversee the safe removal of more than 200 journalists, support staff and their families from Afghanistan. 

They are currently in danger and need the US government to get them to safety. Please advise as to how best to proceed,” Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote. In a statement on Tuesday, the newspaper’s Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said, “Many of out journalists, support staff and their families were able to safely leave Kabul.”

“There are still a great number of journalists who remain, and we are committed to supporting our colleagues as they work to get their staff to safety,” Buzbee said. 

Schiff and Chabot told Biden in their letter that their offices and staffs have heard stories of journalists and those who aided their efforts being threatened by the Taliban and fearing for their safety.

“Our country is among the fiercest proponents of a free and fair press — believing that a robust media is necessary for sustaining strong democracies around the world,” they wrote. “We cannot resign those individuals who acted to fulfill these beliefs to violence and death. We must see them to safe harbor.” 

Later on Wednesday, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) penned a letter of their own to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas asking that they “honor the United States’ commitment to the freedom of press,” and ensure the safe return of American journalists.

“The Taliban have long targeted journalists, which continues today. Despite this risk, journalists have been on the front lines reporting on the conflict in Afghanistan for 20 years, keeping citizens informed and government leaders accountable. Those who contributed to a free and open press in Afghanistan will likely face retribution by the Taliban, and must be brought to safety,” the senators said.

“Last week, suspected Taliban members reportedly targeted members of the press, including an Afghan radio station manager in Kabul and a journalist in Helmand province, who were killed and kidnapped respectively. This is in addition to attacks on other members of the press, including the Radio Azadi journalists, who have seen four of their journalists killed since 2016. It is of concern that if we do not act now, the Taliban will continue such attacks.”

This story was updated at 6:13 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Afghanistan Alejandro Mayorkas Amy Klobuchar Antony Blinken Jake Sullivan Joe Biden Mitt Romney Presidency of Joe Biden Steve Chabot Taliban War in Afghanistan

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