A prominent war journalist said she was threatened with jail if she did not tweet an apology to the Taliban over an article that accused Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers of forcing teenage girls into marriage and sex slavery.
“l apologize for 3 or 4 reports written by me accusing the present authorities of forcefully marrying teenage girls and using teenage girls as sexual slaves by Taliban commanders,” tweeted Lynne O’Donnell, an Australian journalist who is currently a columnist for Foreign Policy magazine.
She added in the Tuesday tweets: “This was a premeditated attempt at character assassination and an affront to Afghan culture …These stories were written without any solid proof or basis, and without any effort to verify instances through on-site investigation or face-to-face meetings with alleged victims.”
According to her bio on Foreign Policy’s website, O’Donnell was Afghanistan bureau chief for the Agence France-Presse wire agency as well as the Associated Press between 2009 and 2017.
On Wednesday, O’Donnell confirmed speculation that she was coerced into apologizing by the Taliban, which overran US-allied forces in Afghanistan last year as the Biden administration hurriedly withdrew American troops, ending the 20-year US engagement in the country.
“Tweet an apology or go to jail, said #Taliban intelligence,” O’Donnell tweeted.
“Whatever it takes: They dictated. I tweeted. They didn’t like it. Deleted, edited, re-tweeted. Made video of me saying I wasn’t coerced. Re-did that too.”
O’Donnell tweeted that she was now out of Afghanistan. The tweets were first cited by the news site Mediaite.
Twitter users reacted with relief that O’Donnell was safe.
One Twitter user wrote: “What a traumatic experience. So glad you’re out, safe and tweeting.”
Another Twitter user commented: “Taliban are taking to extremes to prevent access to information and turn the light off on Afghanistan.”
Her recent articles for FP focused on the human rights abuses and the imposition of austere Islamic law following the Taliban’s seizure of power last year.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban have banned women and girls from secondary and higher education while forcing them to undergo religious instruction.
Women are also confined to rules governing the clothes they wear and where they travel. They are not allowed to work side by side with men in the workplace and authorities inspect the kind of cell phones they use, according to HRW.