With the fall of Kabul – the fall of Afghan independent media

In the beginning of 2021, the Afghan independent media scene was one of the most vibrant in the region. By December, hundreds of journalists had fled, even more were in distress within the country and media outlets closed

Since the fall of the Republic, nearly half of Afghanistan’s media outlets have closed and thousands of Afghan journalists have either left the country, lost their jobs or are in hiding, with local media outlets and women journalists bearing the brunt of this downturn. Meet some of those whose lives were changed but who still hope they can provide vital information to the Afghan people.

IMS’ mandate covers providing safety, supporting the production of journalism and pushing for legal frameworks in support of free press. Due to the seriousness of the situation, however, in 2021 IMS worked with the World Food Programme to distribute humanitarian aid. After the fall of Kabul, efforts have focused on keeping safety mechanisms running for journalists in the country, with a special focus on women journalists, while working with partners to find new ways of providing Afghan society with reliable information.

From Ghazni province to Paris

Khadija Ashrafi is 27 years old and used to work as the general manager of Bakhtar News Agency and as a local reporter in Ghazni province. Ghazni is very traditional: even before Taliban came to power, only a few women worked in the media.

“I had to wear a burka and would only take it off during the recording of television reports, then put it back on. It was normal that sources did not want to be interviewed by me because I am a woman,” she explains.

Her husband was also a journalist, and both were threatened by the Taliban because of their work. In January 2021, these threats became very serious. AJSC helped them transfer to Kabul.

“They helped us with a hotel for 20 days, then I was in a shelter for four months, together with other women. Then they rented a house for me and my children, and I lived in this house until September 2021 – even after the fall of Kabul. If we had not come to Kabul, we might not be alive today. Several journalists were killed in Ghazni and other provinces when we received threats.

“I am now in France with my husband and three children. We live in a temporary house and being a refugee is difficult, but at least we are safe – that makes me happy. My education and my job from before have zero value here. I must start all over and it’s really hard. I do not think I can be a journalist again and I know I will miss the good days we no longer have.”

A man and a woman camera operator and a woman journalist film in Afghanistan.
Journalists filming in Afghanistan. Photo provided by Khadija Ashrafi.

Navigating TV broadcasting in a new reality

Tolo News continues to broadcast from Kabul. A woman news anchor explains the changes she has seen in Afghan media since the Taliban came to power:

“This regime has brought about several changes to the media industry. A ban on foreign soap operas and broadcasting foreign news channels, as well as strong regulations on female media anchors’ appearance to name but a few. I must wear a hijab and fear that the Taliban may impose wearing a mask or a type of abaya where only the eyes are visible [editor’s note: a law requiring women to cover their faces on television came into effect in May 2022, after this interview]. It is also possible that they do not allow women journalists to appear on TV at all.

“I have to be careful of using words such as ‘Taliban’. Previously, I and other journalists used this word freely, but now we have to use terms like ‘the Islamic Emirate’ or ‘acting government’. The wording in general is different from what we used in the past. To be honest, the content of our programmes is mostly in favour of the current ruling government.

“Another change is that very few government officials now meet with the media and give interviews. They do not share information with female journalists and don’t allow female media workers to interview and film ordinary people.

“Although my family has concerns, I do want to continue working in media. Women have protested in the streets. Even though we are all suppressed by the Taliban, we still get to appear in the media, which is good for keeping the hopes of the women in our country alive.”

Finding footing as a journalist abroad

Wahida Faizi used to work as a gender coordinator for AJSC (Afghan Journalists Safety Committee). She has a background as a prize-winning journalist and has lived for many years with threats to her life. Immediately after the fall of Kabul, she fled Afghanistan, evacuated by a Scandinavian government.

“I made evacuation lists for others but neither I nor my husband wanted to leave,” she recalls. But she knew she was a target and had seen how the Taliban had purposefully started going after women journalists earlier in the year. It only took a few days before Wahida Faizi packed the awards she had won for her journalism alongside two sets of clothes and headed for the airport.

Now she is living in safety and continues to work to keep Afghanistan on the agenda in Western media by giving interviews and taking part in events. Danish newspaper Politiken has employed Wahida Faizi in an internship scheme and she is also advising IMS’ advocacy and programme work in Afghanistan, with a special focus on initiatives with and for Afghan woman journalists.

“I am pleased that I can continue my journalism in a new setting as many other fleeing Afghan journalists have not been that fortunate. I feel an obligation to continue this course and to be vocal about the situation of Afghanistan’s journalists,” she says.

Threats to Afghanistan’s media workers

  • By December, only 17 percent of women journalists returned to work.
  • In 17 of the country’s 34 provinces there are no women working in the media.
  • There were 227 documented cases of violence against media workers.
  • Eight journalists were murdered, six of which happened in the first half of 2021.
  • AJSC’s registered violation cases increased by almost 100 percent compared to 2020.

This article was published in IMS’ Annual Report 2021