‘I don’t know how much longer we can take’, says journalist hidden from the Taliban in Afghanistan – 02/09/2021 – World

“I hate writing these emails. I know how serious the situation is. I wish we had some magic solution or some suggestion that it was… The hard truth is that we just don’t have it.”

With these words, the spokeswoman for an international organization responded to the appeal of an Afghan journalist asking for help to leave the country. A private TV reporter in Kabul and with a family member living in Brazil, he is one of thousands of media professionals who have filled the inboxes of human rights organizations since the Taliban took over the government last year. day 15.

They fear retaliation for reporting critical of the fundamentalist group in the past. Despite the rush to obtain visas, flight vacancies and safe passages to enter Kabul airport, few managed to flee the country — basically those who collaborated with Western media, and even these were not rescued in their entirety. .

Support organizations, which were already on a journey to obtain visas and relocate these professionals to other countries, have been left with virtually no options since Aug. 31, when the last American soldier left Afghan soil. The airport has returned to Taliban control and has ceased to function — a Qatari team is working to rehabilitate it. The land borders with Pakistan and Iran are also closed.

Trapped with their families indoors or in makeshift hiding places, these journalists are unpaid and unable to withdraw money from their confiscated bank accounts.

“We don’t have a visa, there are no flights, there is no option to leave. So we’re here, waiting,” summarizes reporter Ali, who worked for Afghan state TV, RTA.

From the small room where he is hidden most of the time, he agreed to give an interview to Folha by video call, as long as his true identity was not revealed, for security reasons. His wife and three small children are also at home. If anyone asks about her husband, she says he isn’t there.

With no work, no income and no way out to buy basic items, Ali says that for now he sees no way out. “I am 24 hours with nothing to do, just following international news in search of some chance to migrate and save our lives. I don’t know how much longer we can take.”

On the day the Taliban entered Kabul, on an offensive much faster than the Western powers had expected, Ali and his RTA colleagues had little time to prepare.

“An hour or two earlier, we knew they were coming. Before they reached us, we escaped. The entire team managed to leave the office and hide. We felt that they could kill us, we did the only thing we could do at that moment”, he recalls.

The few journalists who dared to continue working have suffered explicit censorship or even attacks and insults during interviews. In RTA, none of the 140 women who worked at the state company until mid-August are still active.

The international organization CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) has records of fighters punching and kicking reporters and confiscating phones, cameras and other work tools. The number of requests for help from Afghan press professionals to the agency has exploded. The committee has managed to register more than 400 such requests so far, but says it is still reviewing “thousands” of others.

“Nobody can raise their voice, nobody can report the situation to the international media. We have to keep silent”, summarizes Ali.

According to him, when he was still working, he had already received threatening letters from the group. “They write: ‘Leave your job or you will be killed.’ They just send the warning and then don’t let the person live their life. We’ve done reports against them so many times… Even before they took power, we were targets.”

Like CPJ, the international organization RSF (Reporters Without Borders) is receiving “dozens and dozens” of requests from journalists who want help to leave the country. The current problem, they say, is getting them to leave Afghan territory safely.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid publicly stated that there would be no reprisals against journalists and that press freedom would be respected in the group’s new government. So far there have been no new restrictive laws, but unofficially reporters are being treated arbitrarily, media advocacy organizations say.

Many media outlets have completely suspended the activity, especially in provinces far from the capital, where the pressure is greater.

Out there

The Afghan private media that continue to function face daily threats. On a TV, five journalists were beaten and insulted. A producer told RSF that the fundamentalist group controls everything on the network, including dictating what reporters can say. Series, soap operas, music programs, all that was suspended. There are only brief newsletters and archival documentaries.

In the case of female professionals, silencing is even more serious. According to a report by the RSF with the Center for the Protection of Afghan Journalists, of more than 700 female journalists in Kabul, fewer than 100 are still working formally. “Women journalists are disappearing from the capital,” says the report.

In late August, foreign correspondents still in Kabul told RSF that they were able to work without interference, benefiting from the Taliban’s initial quest for some international legitimacy.

But no one knew until when, especially after the group released a note, on August 21, stating that, before interviewing the population, these journalists should notify the group’s command or they would be arrested. On the same day, the Taliban announced on Twitter that a mixed committee would be created to “tranquilize” the media and address the problems brought by them.

For journalists like Ali, from RTA, there is no longer any way to work in security in the country. That’s why he says he has been thinking daily about ways to emigrate.

When the airport was still open, he did not risk going there due to the unstable and dangerous situation — dozens of people were shot dead in a terrorist attack, trampled by the crowd trying to board any flight.

“The colleagues who found an opportunity to leave the country were single, childless men. For me it was not possible. I have three children. I couldn’t take them with me on that rush, I could lose them.”

Asked what he felt when the last American soldier left the country on the 30th, he replied: “We just feel hopeless.”

Some Afghans have been trying to flee to Pakistan over land, but the journey is also dangerous. Ali says he is considering the possibility. “If there is no other way, we will have to take the risk to save our lives, if we are lucky. If not, we will have to face the consequences.”

Anyway, Afghans need a visa to travel almost anywhere in the world, and Ali and his family don’t have one. The journalist, who has a relative in São Paulo, is seeking information about the requirements to come to Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro’s government is considering granting a humanitarian visa to Afghans, but so far this has not materialized.

“I’m looking for help from the countries that support the Afghans, so that we can go somewhere to build a new life.”, says the journalist. “A normal life. We don’t want anything else.”

Sources: Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders