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Afghan journalists “homeless in their own home”

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Kabul, November 10, 2021

To the Human Rights Advocates and Media Supporters!

from Mohammad Kabir Shafaq, Journalist

Zwei afghanische Frauen schauen auf die Skyline in Kabul am 14. September 2020.
Kabul skyline, September 2010 (Credit NZZ)

Fate has cruelly played with my destiny and that of my generation’s; I have been made homeless in my own homeland. I have loved my homeland beyond description. I never thought the day would come when I would have to leave my country.

I wanted and still want to do my part in the reconstruction and development of my ancestral land. I studied my master’s degree at a university in Kabul with great aspirations to serve my country and my people. I have spent years advocating for the rights of people through civil society and media to make the voices of people suffering from years of discrimination heard.

Before the fall of Kabul, I worked in one of the government institutions and was in charge of media production and publishing. In terms of education and experience, I had prepared myself to work in high-ranking government positions, to use my knowledge and experience to rebuild Afghanistan. 

Educated people targeted

But all these hopes and aspirations collapsed on the evening of Sunday, August 15, with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. After this, there is no basis to achieve these goals and aspirations anymore. Rather, educated youth with a  more liberal mindset (such as journalists, social activists, university professors), are considered criminals, are terrorized and murdered in the back alleys of different cities.

Afghanistan was on the path of development and prosperity after 2001; there was freedom of expression; civil society and political parties operated freely; private media outlets started working and broadcasted with complete freedom; cultural and art institutions operated. 

Female students forced to attend pro-Taliban gatherings in head-to-toe black robes at Kabul University, South Asia News | wionews.com
Enforced new look for women students, Kabul

In addition, private universities were teaching modern science and were equipped with modern technology; some highly educated people had returned from foreign countries; women and girls worked freely in public and private institutions, and they all worked together enthusiastically for a prosperous, free Afghanistan.

In each program, youth participated with enthusiasm and were full of hope; they talked about peace, prosperity and a new world, all thinking of a prosperous and free Afghanistan that is part of the global development caravan.

Tribalism behind Taliban/ Pashtun rule

We were thinking of peace and prosperity. We were on the path of progress, and the new generation of Afghanistan did not even imagine a return to the dark period before 2001. The fall of the government as it happened was not possible. We believe that the Afghan government did not fall; rather, it was handed over to the Taliban in a dirty, tribal deal that no free-thinking, responsible citizen in this land can tolerate.

The day Kabul fell was so tragic that cannot be expressed with words; the fall of a government with a trained army (300,000 men), equipped with modern weapons and facilities and backed by the great world powers, without any military conflict in a matter of hours; falling to the hands of a terrorist group, with the most backward mindset in the present century. It has been the most horrible tragedy in my life and the life of my generation.

After the fall of the government, I lost my job. The government agency I worked for is not in line with the Taliban beliefs and agendas; because it was active in consolidating democracy and the rule of the people. I have heard that the institution has been removed from the Taliban government altogether. 

Journalists thrown out of jobs and persecuted

Now they have collected our personal documents from the office and from the employees’ desks and computers. I do not know for what purpose the Taliban will use that information. Today, like me, tens and hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs. Under the Taliban, there is no hope for the lives of journalists.

Every day a journalist is arrested and brutally tortured; some are even assassinated. The media that is still active is warned how to describe and praise the Taliban Islamic Emirate in their publications. Otherwise, they will face the wrath of the Taliban. The media is inevitably self-censored and Taliban crimes are not reported. You cannot imagine the real face of the Taliban; how inhumanely they oppress the people, including media and social activists.

Here in Afghanistan, every day a human being is hanged; an unlawful trial is held; a human being is shot; a woman is flogged; more restrictions are imposed on women. Many people will die of hunger. Does the world know that in the Taliban regime, the suicide bombers who killed thousands of defenseless women and children in hospitals, courses, schools, universities, mosques, in civil protests, or at work and in life, are now hailed as national heroes? Do people hear of the mass graves and crimes against humanity in Panjshir province?

Does the world remember the death of eight Hazara children from starvation in western Kabul on October 30? Does anyone know that the Hazaras of Afghanistan are once again exposed to full-blown genocide; and every day a number of young people mysteriously go missing and then their bodies are found in the pits the next few days?

Does anyone know of the forced migration of Hazaras by Taliban? Does anyone know that the Hazaras from Behsud, Daikundi, Uruzgan, Balkh, Ghazni, Kandahar, Kunduz, Badghis, and Bamyan have been looted and displaced by nomads with full support of the Taliban? Do people outside Afghanistan hear these displaced people are living in the mountains and deserts without enough food and clothing as the harsh winter is approaching?

Now in the cities, too, the Hazara elites, journalists, the educated, and the cultured, have no place to live and work; rather, with each passing day, life continues to become unbearable for them.

Inhumanity no-one much knows about

It is reported every day that children and girls are being sold in different parts of the country due to the poverty. What else is worse? The situation is so oppressive that a university professor is insulted and tortured for wearing regular clothes (suit) and then is shot.

Do you know that in the land ruled by the Taliban, wearing clean and tidy clothes is considered a crime and that person is shot? Did you know that in Afghanistan under the Taliban, journalists, educated people, social activists and artists are assassinated every day in the back alleys of the city? Do you know how many journalists, social activists and educated people are hiding in the heart of Kabul to escape arrest, unlawful trial and assassination for a few more days?

I think in these difficult days, the world has forgotten us, human rights advocates and media supporters have forgotten us. These are hard days for Afghanistan, and I do not know exactly what the solution is. How many people can escape the country? After all, many people will remain; how do they live, how many days or months can they live in hiding? And what can be done to prevent the forced migration of Hazaras? Yes! A day has come when everyone is trying to save just their own lives.

Russia: 2 suicide attacks outside Kabul airport; 13 dead | Politics | kwwl.com
Suicide attacks on Kabul airport

Afghanistan is now back to the dark days of 1996, when it no longer spoke of progress, freedom of thought and civil rights, free media, culture and art. For me and my generation, the day has come when I have no place in my country, let alone assessing the plight of helping my fellow countrymen. I may be arrested or assassinated any day.

The days of living in hiding and silence

I literally feel homeless in my home. Every day, with the news of the arrest of journalists, the assassination and the unlawful trials, my hope keeps shattering. I have been living in hiding for almost three months now. In 2018 alone, I survived two Taliban suicide attacks and was wounded once. My life has always been in danger, yet this was my country; so I worked with enthusiasm and much hope for a better future.

I am writing this letter to share with the world, to an extent, the current situation in the lives of journalists, women, social activists, artists, university professors, and ethnic minorities. The domestic media is severely restricted and unable to cover what is going on.

Refugees often not who they claim to be

Despite all efforts to save the lives of journalists at serious risk and other vulnerable groups, no effective action has been taken yet. Afghan media outlets have evacuated their families instead of endangered journalists. Countries also made big mistakes in the evacuation process. Journalists and vulnerable groups have not been rightfully identified and have not been able to leave the country.

Now we are left to live in hiding, and we don’t know how long we can survive like this. But I know this, assassination and arrest will surely come to each of us. If I go on living, I will write other letters to tell how destiny has played with our lives who only wished for peace, prosperity, and freedom in our country. 

Links: 

♦ Afghan women professionals secure refuge in Athens

♦ Baroness Kennedy and the eight empty seats in the plane

In the thick of it by Faisel Bardot

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