‘They left us alone in the 21st century’: What journalists in Afghanistan are saying about the crisis

Their posts on Twitter ranged from pleas for help to grief on how history is repeating itself.

BySupriti David
‘They left us alone in the 21st century’: What journalists in Afghanistan are saying about the crisis
Kartik Kakar
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As the devastation in Afghanistan bleeds into another day, the plight of its people, including journalists reporting from the area, is dangerously uncertain.

On August 5, Foreign Policy wrote that journalists had begun “fleeing for their lives, terrified the insurgents will make good on threats to kill them and their families unless they start pumping out favorable copy”. Local news outlets reported in the last four months alone, 51 media outlets have closed and hundreds of news professionals have left their jobs.

On its landing page, the Committee to Protect Journalists has spotlighted how an “entire generation of Afghan reporters” is at risk. In an oped in Washington Post, the organisation’s executive director, Joel Simon, wrote that unless the US government intervenes to bring these journalists to safety, an entire generation of reporters will be lost.

“Over the past 20 years,” Simon wrote, “independent media has proliferated in Afghanistan, producing national outlets as well as top-flight Afghan journalists who do the lion’s share of the reporting for international news organisations, which have shrunk their bureaus as the American presence has diminished.”

On August 16, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal sent a group statement to US president Joe Biden, urging the government to provide “safe passage” and “facilitated air movement” for their “brave Afghan colleagues” in the region.

For now, journalists in Afghanistan have taken to social media platforms like Twitter to talk about the unfolding situation and the fear that grips them.

Independent journalist Kanika Gupta, who is based in Kabul, managed to return to India this morning. Before she left, she had tweeted about how the government was “not taking any accountability”.

A senior advisor to a government ministry responded that “ignoring advisories and fibbing is an old, tired trope”.

Mustafa Kazemi, director of the counternarcotics reporting unit at Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, took to Twitter to express his concerns about how he, along with hundreds of other journalists, was stuck in Kabul with his wife and 11-month-old daughter.

While journalists got in touch with him for interview requests, he wrote, only “a handful...showed solidarity with my situation”.

As of this morning, Kazemi is still in Kabul.

Several journalists posted about how television channels have now taken their female anchors off screen. Earlier today, however, Miraqa Popal, head of news at Tolo News, tweeted that the channel had resumed its broadcast today with female anchors.

Some channels have also reportedly moderated their content to be “more Islamic” and “less liberal”.

Among non-Afghan journalists on the ground is CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward. While some Twitter users claimed Ward had begun wearing a burqa for reporting once the Taliban entered Kabul, Ward herself clarified that this was not entirely correct.

Maryam Mehtar, a Kabul-based reporter with Salam Watandar, a national radio service, tweeted that if she “came out of Kabul alive”, she would write about “how they left us alone in the 21st century”.

Rukhshana Media, an Afghan women's media organisation formed in November 2020, tweeted that a number of Taliban armed forces entered the compound of Afghanistan's Tolo News in Kabul on Monday. Tolo News posted on Twitter that the forces collected government-issued weapons before leaving with the “assurance” of keeping the premises “safe”.

Fuller Project, a media group, spoke to several unnamed journalists about their experiences.

CBS News journalist Ahmad Mukhtar tweeted about how this is the second time he’s witnessing a “Taliban takeover of my country”. “Nothing has changed,” he wrote.

A journalist with Enikass TV tweeted that the Taliban had “invaded the homes of at least two female journalists in Kabul” on August 16, which another journalist had tweeted about as well. In another tweet, she called what’s happening in Afghanistan today “a new reality”.

Charlotte Bellis, a reporter with Al Jazeera based in Afghanistan, wrote about what the new Kabul looked like. She said, “Returned to my hotel to find hotel security replaced by Taliban members with AKs. They had parked their US-made humvees outside. They said good evening. They looked startled. And I walked into the lobby and ordered room service.”

NBC News’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, also shed light on what he saw. “People are not just sad, but angry, blaming the US for abandoning the country to war, chaos, and the Taliban.”

Frud Bezhan, a journalist covering Afghanistan for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, tweeted about how history was “repeating itself”.

Fahim Abed, a reporter for The New York Times based in Kabul, tweeted, “Being an Afghan journalist in Afghanistan is like writing a story about different fires in your house and reporting the burning of each part, despite your family members being stuck there and you can’t help them. Just in case you don’t know how it feels.”

The Global Investigative Journalism Network wrote on Twitter that it’s working with various groups to get their colleagues out of Afghanistan. International Media Support, a non-profit organisation, also sought funds to bring journalists to safety and keep independent media outlets operational.

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