"Violence and threats against Afghanistan's journalists by the government and security forces are increasing," HRW said in the 48-page report. "These attacks put at risk the gains in media freedom in Afghanistan since 2001."
HRW conducted more than 30 interviews with journalists, editors and other media workers for the report titled "Stop Reporting or We'll Kill Your Family: Threats to Media Freedom in Afghanistan," which indicates that Afghan media outlets are likely to self-censor in response.
The watchdog condemned attacks on press freedom by both Afghan authorities and insurgent groups, such as the Taliban. The latter has been actively using journalism as a propaganda platform, "courting" the media in its campaign against the government.
"Female journalists face particularly formidable challenges. Social and cultural restrictions limit their mobility in urban as well as rural areas, and increase their vulnerability to threats and attacks, including sexual violence," HRW pointed out.
HRW's deputy director in Asia, Phelim Kine, said that since 2002, official, warlords and militants have threatened, assaulted and killed dozens of journalists in Afghanistan "without any fear of prosecution."
Kine urged the recently elected President Ashraf Ghani and his former rival Abdullah Abdullah, who assumed the position of Afghanistan's chief executive after the election, to protect press freedoms and deliver on campaign promises to bring justice to anyone who tries to trample on human rights.
The past year saw a record number of journalists attacked in Afghanistan since records began, with assaults up by 64 percent in comparison to 2013, according to local media advocacy group Nai.