After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021, many journalists had to leave the country. DW Akademie offers scholarships, training and mentorships to support journalists in exile. We spoke to one of them*.
*For safety reasons, we cannot disclose the name of the interviewee. They are one of the participants of the pilot project Space for Freedom. With this project, DW Akademie and local partner organizations are helping to create new perspectives for journalists and media in exile. Previously, the participant worked as a freelance journalist, columnist and analyst for the three biggest newspapers in Afghanistan, covering current issues and political developments in the country. The participant has also published articles with international media outlets such as the BBC.
What happened to you when the Taliban seized power in August 2021?
In Afghanistan, it was no longer possible to continue my work, due to heavy restrictions on media houses, censorship, arrests and all the other things happening at the time. When you work as a journalist and the political environment changes like this, there is no way for you to stay. Without freedom of speech, we couldn’t work anymore.
I continue to work in exile, but I have to keep a low profile. Now I am part of a project that helps to keep me busy and not forget my passion and professionalism.
Why is it important that journalists like yourself keep reporting from and about Afghanistan?
I always say that we have to be the voice of the voiceless people. Right now, there is no voice from Afghanistan, so I am trying to raise a voice for the people. At least I am in a safer place than the people who are still in the country and I can talk about reality.
I also think that you have to take notes. You don’t have to publish them right now, but you have to take notes. This is history happening right now and right there. So for journalists, it’s a duty to write down what has happened to Afghanistan. That will help the next generation and the international community to have a clear image of what is happening, not the story that the Taliban choose to tell. The reality that the people of Afghanistan are witnessing is something else.
What are the greatest challenges for you as a journalist in exile?
The biggest problem is our uncertain future: Now we are in Pakistan, our visas are expiring and there is no way to extend them. There is nothing promised for us or a safe place to go to. We face so many challenges, from financial to psychological problems. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for several months, lost over 15kgs of my weight during these last eight months.
In exile there are daily struggles. You have to find a way to cover your expenses, to keep a positive mindset. Every day I wonder what will happen tomorrow, what do I do if there is no safe shelter? There is also no way back for us. I am on the list of wanted people, so if I cross the border, I will be arrested.
And these are problems alongside the fact that you have lost friends, your career, everything. Some of us have ten years of journalism experience and it is worth nothing anymore now.
What are the topics you are covering in exile?
I have started working on two projects. The first was an interview with a journalist who is the founder and editor-in-chief of a news agency working in exile. I spoke to him about the challenges and obstacles, how difficult it is to find funding, etc.
The second interview was with a female para-athlete from Afghanistan who is in Pakistan now. We spoke about athletics during the Taliban regime and the past government and how she thinks about her future. I am still working on this article.
How did you come across DW Akademie’s project “Space for Freedom” and what have you learned so far?
I read about the program on social media and some friends told me to apply. So far, we have had two trainings: Mobile journalism and digital security. Mainly I am a writer and not a photographer or a videographer, but the mobile journalism training was very useful for me. I have learned how to make short videos, short documentaries, take different angles for good shots.
The training takes place online but every day we have some practical tasks. Then we send the videos to our mentors and receive feedback. I really feel that I am improving in this field.
We also had the training on digital security. I have lost my blue badge Twitter account a few months back. If I had had that training earlier, I would have probably not lost it. Now I have learned to secure my accounts, I know which platforms and messengers to use for safe communication.
So, I am focusing on training at the moment. When you are in exile, you are not in a good psychological place. Writing is somehow difficult, but I still try. If I stop writing, I stop existing.
What are your plans after completing the training program?
I am trying every possible way to get out of Pakistan. I am trying to find a scholarship, because I was doing my masters studies when the Taliban took over. So, I had to leave behind my studies and could not finish my degree. I’m also trying to find international media houses to work with, to keep myself busy but also to find a way to cover my expenses. It’s hard to be in exile without any funding.
The main thing that helps about the training is that we also learn to write resumes and apply for international media houses. And we also have learned the standards to make videos for international media. We talk to our mentors and every week they give us advice on how we should write, how we communicate with editors.
About the future of Afghanistan, I am very pessimistic. I have studied politics and I don’t see a bright future for Afghanistan at this point.
What keeps you going even in this difficult situation?
For me, two things give me energy: One is the hope that one day I will work with an international media house. And the second thing is my family. I have to move forward, for myself and my family.
DW Akademie is conducting the Space for Freedom project as a network partner of the German government's Hannah Arendt Initiative. Through this initiative, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media are supporting journalists, media workers and defenders of freedom of expression in crisis and conflict areas, as well as those living in exile.