1. Can you describe the work that the IFJ and its local affiliates have been doing to help Afghan journalists and media workers since the Taliban took over the country one year ago?
Since the day that Kabul fell to the Taliban, IFJ affiliates across the world have worked tirelessly to support our Afghan sisters and brothers. From raising funds to providing humanitarian assistance, from lobbying governments for emergency visas and resettlement to providing safe shelter and food, to supporting evacuations and providing solidarity and assistance when those seeking refuge reach other countries, unions and journalists around the world have responded amazingly. We can be very proud of the journalist to journalist, union to union solidarity that has been seen over the past year - it is not just words but essential, practical and life-saving help.
Alongside that we have worked to support our affiliates inside Afghanistan - helping them to monitor rights violations, provide humanitarian support to their members and to advocate for journalists and media rights.
2. Can you tell us in detail how the IFJ Afghanistan Solidarity Fund has been spent and why is it necessary to continue raising funds?
The emergency appeal we launched to support Afghan journalists raised the most money we had ever done up to that point in any special appeal - and it has helped save lives, either by supporting those fleeing the country or by providing essential basic food and medicines for those who remain in Afghanistan.
We have spent at least 123,000€ in emergency support. Those funds have been mostly used to provide small emergency grants of 200, 300 and 400€ to help dozens of individuals buy food, pay rent, be able to leave their home region to a safer location, to provide medical assistance and purchase medicines, to be able to secure a passport or travel to an embassy for a visa interview. In a few cases it has helped those with visas to leave the country. For those in exile it has helped to provide safe shelter or to buy food and essentials - many people fled with nothing and needed warm clothes or items for young children.
In all, we have provided more than 63,000€ in humanitarian support to journalists inside Afghanistan, both through our affiliates Afghanistan’s National Journalists Union (ANJU) and Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) and in direct small grants paid through Western Union or Moneygram, to at least 172 journalists and their families. The average grant has been just under 350€. In six cases, where a journalist has already secured a visa and needs urgent evacuation, we have been able to pay flight costs of up to 2000€.
We have provided more than 34,000€ in assistance to journalists in Pakistan, both through our affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which has organized a guest house in Islamabad to provide respite and safe shelter and in small cash grants to enable those who have fled to find somewhere to live and feed themselves and their families.
A further 26,000€-plus has been distributed to help support the needs of Afghan journalists in exile in other countries - in Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, France and other countries.
On top of the direct assistance provided by the IFJ Safety Fund many affiliates themselves have provided further support. The Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (JUADN), one of our Greek affiliates, provided a monthly allowance and medical insurance cover to women journalists who were in Greece while they applied for asylum in Canada. More than that they also bought presents for the women’s children and clothes for the family who had fled with virtually nothing. In Canada and in France and other countries similar stories, not just of giving cash, but of giving time, solidarity and hope have been repeated time and time again.
The effort by all our affiliates has been amazing. But we have already spent more than we raised and the need is still immense. There are people forced to live on the street because they cannot afford rent, there are those still in hiding, families who eat just one meal a day, people who cannot afford operations or medicines they need. We still receive appeals every single day. It is heartbreaking to have to say no. As Afghanistan vanished from the front pages or nightly news bulletins it became harder to raise funds. It is vital we make another big effort to enable us to help more people and save more lives.
3. Could you share some story on how the IFJ Afghanistan Solidarity Fund has been beneficial to Afghan journalists?
There are many stories - but to give just a few examples. One person who was in hiding needed a travel document to be able to leave Afghanistan - the IFJ Safety Fund helped him and his wife to get that and escape. One family who had to flee to Pakistan were living on the street, effectively begging - thanks to the Fund they were able to get a room and some security and respite to be able to apply for resettlement.
In Afghanistan, through ANJU, we were able to distribute emergency food packages containing rice, oil, to provide baby food where necessary - literally saving lives at a time when so many journalists had lost their jobs, had sold their possessions and were destitute. But perhaps it is best just to let Afghan journalists speak for themselves. These are from emails we received from some of those we assisted
“After ten months of living in despair and after six months of living full of problems in Pakistan, these details of yours have brought happiness to me and my family. My children will never forget your kindness”, said H.J., male TV journalist from Kabul now resettled in Europe.
“Once again, I want to profess my warmest gratitude regarding your endeavor and your endless time that you spent from the start of this journey (evacuation) till this moment, I feel so honored and so thrilled…and I will never forget your sacrifice that you donated in the mentioned journey”, said S.T., female journalist from Ghazni, a city in southeastern Afghanistan, who worked in Kabul and is now living in Canada.
“Thank you very much for your constant help. I really do not have the option to repay all your love and help”, saidA.S., male journalist from Ghor, a province in central Afghanistan.
4. What are the most pressing needs for Afghan journalists right now?
There are many. As a result of the economic crisis and Taliban regulations regarding content and preventing women from working there is huge unemployment among journalists - and so many are struggling to pay rent and provide for their families. They need humanitarian assistance - funds and food!
There are those who are still in hiding and need support to leave Afghanistan - from logistical support to visas for onward travel.
Those who remain and are in work need international support to help sustain media, to pay journalists and to help lobby for greater access to information and the safety and protection of journalists. They need the international community to use their collective voice to enhance the space for journalism.
There are hundreds of journalists who fled and are trapped now in third countries - especially Pakistan. They need governments around the world to provide more humanitarian emergency visas, to ease visa requirements, to put more resources into handling asylum applications and to provide more support and resources to resettlement schemes. It is shameful the way in which governments have promised loads but delivered little in terms of visas and resettlement.
5. How can journalists around the world help them?
By raising funds - send our special anniversary appeal to all union members, to branches to friendly civil society and philanthropic or professional organisations, to editors and media. More funds means we can provide more vital assistance.
Alongside that it is vital that unions lobby their governments to provide more emergency visas for Afghan journalists and that they make the process simpler. The threat facing many of them is real and there is a danger that those who have remained in exile in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey or other countries for many months are returned to Afghanistan when their temporary visas run out. Use our model letter and ask to meet the government, make the case for them to offer journalists a route out of the nightmare they face.
6. What is the situation of Afghan journalists and media workers one year after the fall of Kabul?
Barely a day goes by now without there being another report of a journalist being detained, being beaten, being prevented from covering a story or denied access. Self-censorship is widespread because of fear of the consequences of really holding the Taliban to account.
Recent reports by our affiliate ANJU showed that in the first six months after the Taliban took over 318 media closed, including 94 out of 114 newspapers, 132 radio stations, 51 TV stations. Around 60% of journalists lost their jobs. Women were effectively barred from most media jobs - just over 200 remained employed - but away from the screens. 87% of women journalists reported having suffered discrimination. In just the last couple of weeks we have reported on cases of women journalists being assaulted and detained.
The UN agency in Afghanistan (UNAMA) confirms that there has been an exodus of journalists, the mass closure of media and rising threats, violence and restrictions.
In the year to April 2022 there were 12 journalists killed and 30 arrested, according to the IFJ South Asia Press Freedom Report.
Even where media still operate, they are subject to draconian restrictions imposed by the Taliban regime. These are dark days for journalism in Afghanistan.
7. How are IFJ affiliates, AIJA and ANJU coping with the developments on the ground?
They are continuing to do their best to represent journalists despite the immense difficulties and personal danger. They have continued to speak out about threats and violence against journalists and call for accountability for those who violate rights of media and journalists. They have helped to secure the release of some of those detained. They are also instrumental in helping to distribute emergency aid to journalists in need and to provide detailed information about the state of the media and journalists rights. It is very hard for them to operate - at times they have been threatened with closure or have had their press conferences physically shut down but they continue to speak up for media freedom.
8. Female journalists in Afghanistan are a target of Taliban violence for being women and working as journalists. What are the threats that they are facing on a daily basis?
When Dost Radio presenter Selagi Ehsaas was attacked last month by unidentified gunmen and they stole her phone and beat her with a gun, leaving her unconscious it barely made headlines. It is alleged that the assailants were Taliban fighters who told her she must quit her job. Such attacks against women journalists have become all too common.
A report by ANJU covering 34 provinces found that 87% of women journalists have experienced gender discrimination and 79% said they have been insulted and threatened under the Taliban regime, including physical threats, abuse by Taliban officials, written and verbal threats. Among the threats are those of a sexual nature or forced marriage with local Taliban commanders.
Because of the economic crisis and harsh Taliban restrictions many women journalists have lost their jobs.
In May, the Taliban sent an order to the media that any female journalists appearing on screen without a face-covering would be forcibly removed from work. Any media manager or guardian of a female presenter who fails to obey the order will also be liable under the new laws.
Women and some media have bravely protested - but the threats have forced many women journalists to seek to flee the country. For those women who live alone, they are often vulnerable, living in poverty and isolation in another country. Afghan women journalists face a double threat – for being journalists and being women. That is why it is so important we can raise more funds to support safe shelter and rights for women journalists.
9. How do you see the future of press freedom in Afghanistan?
It is hard to be optimistic in the immediate future - but one thing we have seen time and time again during this crisis is the power of solidarity - to not only help Afghan journalists to survive but to be supported to raise their voices, to speak out for media freedom.
What we need is a more coordinated effort from the international community to support and sustain media and journalists’ rights, both for those in Afghanistan and those in exile. Not just words of condemnation but practical support to enable journalists to do what they do best - seek the truth, expose abuses and inform the public. By shining that light into the dark corners of the Taliban regime, journalists can help bring about change, and can look forward to a future of greater media freedom and rights.
The IFJ and its affiliates have worked with our colleagues in Afghanistan for more than 20 years - we will be there to stand with them until they can secure such a future.
Help IFJ continue its solidarity work in Afghanistan by donating to the IFJ Safety fund