Veteran and award-winning journalist Farida Nekzad, co-founder of the Afghan news agency Pjhwok Afghan News, has told GAMAG EUROPA (GE) that it will be up to her to continue fighting for press freedom and the rights of women journalists in Afghanistan from Toronto. The director of the Center for the Protection of Afghan Journalists (CPAWJ) hopes that this is her ultimate destiny but, even if she is not, she will continue to fight for her personal and professional goal from outside Kabul.
Farida, who has had to leave her country like many other colleagues because of the risk they would run if they stayed there, tells us how many journalists have not been so lucky and are in grave danger “Women journalists are really worried because they are being looked for” she says, noting “We need Europe to help us get women journalists out of Afghanistan. Although I know it is really difficult and, as the days go by, even more so. Europe has always been in solidarity with the Afghan men and women. We are waiting for their help”.
At the time of publication of this interview, it was announced that the Association of Swedish Advertisers has awarded Farida Nekzad the Freedom of Speech and Press Award 2021, for her defense of these values and her courage in the fight for the rights of Afghan women journalists.
—We illustrate this interview with photos provided by Farida Nekzad herself.
Farida, how are you feeling?
I am exhausted and need to rest. I am very sad, I cry a lot when I speak with one of my colleagues who have stayed there. The Taliban closed our office and all the NGO workers had to go to her house, she explains to us through WhatsApp voice messages between waiting for her in Doha and her arrival in Toronto. Ours was the only one designed to defend the rights of Afghan women journalists, and the Taliban do not want any women in the media.
I had to leave because I was really in danger. More than a dozen journalists from local and national media were traveling on my evacuation flight. You have to help us from outside to put pressure on the international community so that we can evacuate those who remain inside the country because they are in extreme danger. Due to airport security problems, we could not get them out safely. Many were trapped after the US withdrawal on August 30 and are still waiting.
Do you know approximately how many journalists have remained in the interior of the country?
Impossible to have concrete figures. I’ve heard Le Monde say there are less than a hundred left. I think there is a group of about thirty women journalists waiting at the airport and others already have permission from different International Organizations. Specifying figures is very difficult.
Has there been a lot of retaliation against women journalists?
Unfortunately, the highest-level female journalists have all marched because they saw that they were in extreme danger. During their professional lives, these years have written a lot about the Taliban and the rights violations they have produced. Many of them have written investigative reports showing the idiosyncrasies of the Taliban. Many women journalists have actually described them as criminals who have failed to behave like human beings.
Now they are leading the country and they say they are going to form a government. Women journalists are really concerned why they are being sought. The Taliban have a full list, including those who work as activists and will look for them house to house. I don’t know what will happen to those they find because we know that many women journalists continue to disappear. So this is a big problem, a big concern that proves that the Taliban will never change and they can have any reaction against women journalists at any time.
What other possibilities of leaving the country do they have?
The situation is very difficult for them. Many do not have access to the airport, which is the only airway. Those who travel to another province and to another country such as Pakistan by bus or road is very risky. There is no guarantee what will happen down the road with the Taliban or with ISIS. Because ISIS is active, so is AL Qaeda. The Taliban want to stop them. What Europeans should do is facilitate safe travel to a second country or from Kabul accompany them to other places to take flights.
Do you have contact with any of your colleagues who have remained within the country?
I receive daily many messages from colleagues who are crying because they are threatened. It’s a nightmare. I can not sleep. Can you believe me Teresa, I have traveled more than two days and two nights in this second leg of the trip out of the country. Now that we have arrived in Canada, I already have communications from women in the interior asking us to help them get out. I can’t sleep well, I haven’t eaten anything, all my thoughts are with them.
If from GAMAG Europe you can help, through international journalists’ organizations and unions by putting pressure on the International Community, we will appreciate it. We need Europeans to help us get women journalists out of Afghanistan. Although I know that it is really difficult and as the days go by, even more. Europe has always been in solidarity with Afghans and Afghans. We look forward to your help.
Interview by Teresa Carreras, Gamag Europe coordinator and translation by Laura Medina member of GE.