A day after the Taliban declared two Afghan TV stations legitimate "military targets," the country's journalists issued their own threat: If you come after us, we'll stop reporting on you.
The Taliban issued the threat against the broadcasters Tolo TV and 1TV on Monday, in response to what the insurgency considered unflattering coverage of the group's recent occupation of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz.
Militants seized the city early this month and occupied it for three days. After government forces retook Kunduz, Tolo News and 1TV delivered reports of atrocities that had occurred under the brief Taliban rule — including house-to-house searches by death squads, mass killings, and gang rapes committed by Taliban fighters.
"The harrowing accounts we've received paint a picture of a reign of terror during the Taliban's brutal capture of Kunduz this week," Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan Researcher at Amnesty International, told Tolo News. "The multiple credible reports of killings, rapes, and other horrors meted out against the city's residents must prompt the Afghan authorities to do more now to protect civilians, in particular in areas where more fighting appears imminent."
Such reports infuriated the Taliban, and prompted an unprecedented warning from the group.
"The [Taliban] from now on does not recognize Tolo and 1TV as media outlets but designates them as military targets due to their disrespectful and hostile actions," the Taliban said in a statement on Monday. "No employee, anchor, office, news team, and reporter of these TV channels holds any immunity."
Though the group has long considered these outlets to be hostile to their agenda, the accusations of rape seem to have pushed the Taliban over the edge.
"The clear shameless example of propaganda by these satanic networks is a report which they published claiming [the Taliban] attacked a female hostel and violated the honor its students," it said.
The Taliban apparently also compiled a hit list. In a video on the Al Emarah TV Facebook page, where pro-Taliban news and messages are posted, the Taliban assembled a series of photos of journalists and TV commentators that the group considers hostile, which accompanied a Taliban propaganda message.
Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of Tolo, told VICE News that the channel's news team covers the Taliban and its actions fairly.
"But we are taking this threat very seriously," he said.
During the news conference on Tuesday, representatives from across Afghanistan's media outlets — including representatives from Tolo and 1TV — repudiated the Taliban. The assembled journalists issued a statement calling attacks on the media a war crime.
"We announce that in the event of such threats continuing or any journalists or media organizations harmed by the Taliban or any other group, our first reaction will be to boycott their news coverage," the group said.
"The Afghan media came together and reacted to the Taliban, saying this is an attack on all Afghan media — is a threat to all of us," Najafizada said after the press conference. "The Taliban should not be allowed to set the agenda."
Tolo was founded in 2004 and initially received startup funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It's now the largest media company in Afghanistan, with reporters located throughout the country.
The Taliban has accused the network of being an American pawn.
"These networks with the complete backing of the Americans ridicule our religious and cultural norms," the group said in its statement.
Najafizada said that the Taliban's threat is the most serious assault on his network in its 14-year history.
"It really took us by surprise," he said.
A Taliban spokesperson did not respond to requests by VICE News for comment.
"Now more than ever, Afghanistan needs its journalists to play a mature role in reporting on all sides of the conflict," said Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We condemn these threats against Tolo TV and 1TV and call on Afghan authorities to do their utmost to ensure the safety of all journalists and news outlets."
On Tuesday, the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan issued a statement repudiating the Taliban's threat as a violation of international law.
"Under international humanitarian law Afghan journalists are not participants in the conflicts they cover and do not lose their status as civilians," the UN said, adding that it was seriously concerned that the Taliban had "identified specific Afghan media outlets and their staff as military targets."
Aleem Agha contributed reporting from Kabul.
_Follow Avi Asher-Schapiro on Twitter: _@AASchapiro