He was famous among Afghans for his comedy and fashion videos on YouTube and Instagram, appearing with a protégé, Ghulam Sakhi. But Tuesday, Ajmal Haqiqi appeared disheveled in two short videos posted to Twitter by the Taliban’s feared intelligence agency.

“I apologize to the Afghan people, to esteemed religious scholars and to the government of the Islamic Emirate,” Haqiqi said while standing before a row of four men, including Sakhi. All but Sakhi wore brown penal uniforms with triangles on their chests.

While Haqiqi does not confess to a crime in the videos, he is understood to be accused of insulting verses of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, in a recent video that he and Sakhi posted to social media.

In that widely circulated video, Haqiqi laughs when Sakhi, who is known to have mental health issues, mimics Arabic scripture recitations in a funny voice. Sakhi is known for his witty and entertaining conversational style.

The identities of the two other men silently standing with Haqiqi and Sakhi could not be confirmed.

“My message to all YouTubers and the youth active in the media is to seriously avoid making any insults to Islamic sacred values,” Haqiqi said in the Dari language.

Taliban officials were not immediately available to specify if the YouTubers will be tried in a court or given specific penalties.

The Taliban, who claim they rule strictly according to Islamic law, consider criticism and anything perceived as disrespectful of Islam a punishable crime.

“In the Islamic sovereignty, no one is allowed to insult or make fun of Quranic verses, sayings of the Prophet and the Islamic sacreds,” the Taliban’s intelligence agency said in a tweet.


Media restrictions

Created in October 2020, Haqiqi’s YouTube channel, which boasts more than 16 million views — a substantial number for Afghanistan’s relatively small YouTube community —remains accessible, although the video in question appears to have been removed.

In the last video uploaded on June 5, Haqiqi and Sakhi appear side by side in front of a wall as Haqiqi apologizes for the video involving Quranic verses and then tries to make Sakhi utter a few words as an apology.

Since the Taliban’s return to power, Afghanistan has lost much of its once thriving media landscape as hundreds of journalists and free press activists have left the country.

The Taliban are widely accused of imposing strict censorship on free media, including the detention and torture of journalists.

Last month, the Taliban banned female anchors from appearing on television without a face covering — a move widely condemned by media and human rights organizations around the world.

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