Zainullah Stanekzai hasn’t seen his family since he was forced to leave his home in southern Afghanistan last year in November, after his name appeared on a “kill list” of alleged Taliban targets that was being widely circulated on WhatsApp and Telegram groups.

Stanekzai, who has been a journalist for 14 years covering the fall and resurgence of the Taliban is one of hundreds of Afghan journalists, artists, activists and politicians whose names have been featured in widely circulated “kill lists.” 

The lists, commonly found on social media platforms and forwarded on WhatsApp groups, have been all too frequent in the last year in Afghanistan which has witnessed a spike in violence since the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban.

The Afghan security official VICE World News reached out to confirmed the list, and said he was aware of them but did not comment on their origins or veracity. “Based on our intelligence, the Taliban, working with the Haqqani Network, has been conducting targeted  killings on Afghan civil society, journalists and government officials. Even those killings claimed by Daesh are conducted by Taliban,” he shared on condition of anonymity, referring to ISIS by its Arabic name.

The Taliban have disowned at least one of the lists that have been widely circulated on social media. “Our targets are clear; they are military personnel and their military bases. They are under our watch and we will eliminate them. Reporters, civil society activists and political figures are not our targets,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said of a list of 100 people that went viral on social media and contained names of prominent political figures.

Stanekzai is no stranger to death threats. 

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