A Light in the Darkness – Experiences of an Afghan Journalist in Kosovo

An Afghan woman journalist, now sheltering in Kosovo, recalls the terrifying days after the Taliban took over her homeland, closed her paper and threatened her life. 

The last and the most terrible news I published from my office, the Kabul kart-e-char, was on August 15, 2021: “President Ghani ran away to the Emirates and the Taliban took over Kabul and overthrew the Islamic republic government.” All the media in Afghanistan had put it on the front page as Breaking News.

All of a sudden my brother came to my office and brought me a big black hijab that my mother had sent me. I put the hijab on and we went home together. 

On the third day of the Taliban regime, I received a phone call. When I picked up, a man was angrily asking me: “Why did you write that a part of the Taliban under the name of Kochi attacked local people in Behsud District, took their lands and destroyed local people’s houses many times?” I immediately hung up. 

A few hours later, my colleague Mohammad came and together we went to the office. We collected all the newspapers that were allocated to analyze the war between the Kochi [Taliban], and dehnishin [the local people] in Behsud district in Maidan Wardak province. We incinerated all the archives.

A few days later, the Taliban seized control of Hamasa-e-Tagher, a weekly media outlet. The media that I opened and spent a lot of time on is in Ghor province of Afghanistan, where the Taliban continue to hold sway. They utilize it as an army guest house. I wrote a report about their actions and how they seized the media office.

The Taliban sent me a threatening letter, asking me to visit their office and provide them with some information. I disregarded their request because that was one of the ways that the Taliban used to arrest people and punish them.

On the afternoon of September 16, 2021, while I was writing a report about the women’s demonstrations in Kabul, another page was open on my PC, showing the European Parliament resolution regarding the Women’s situation in Afghanistan. 

”They are here ... the Taliban is coming in”

The Western countries never took any useful steps toward the resolution on Afghan women, they just left them in a tricky situation in Afghanistan.

Abruptly, I heard a voice: ”They are here … the Taliban is coming in”. I ran to get out. But I saw them behind the glass of the front door. I had no chance of passing the door and ran to the basement. I kept quiet under an old damaged desk and started praying. I would rather not mention their name, but two of my colleagues, a man around 40 years old and a photographer aged 28, were in the office, and they couldn’t persuade the Taliban not to ruin the equipment. 

When the Taliban came down to the basement, I said Salam and wished them good health. I thought they would respect it because the foundation of Islam religion is Salam, which means peace and good wishes. 

One of them told me: “Your sin is worse than an army officer’s who fought against us. How many times did I tell you to stop this ridiculous and non-Islamic work? You were on our black list, you have to come with us.” 

Outside the office, there were men from the neighbourhood. They surrounded me, and an old man whom I always bought some things from his shop, apologized, and humbly requested one of the Taliban, and the other called “Mawlavi Sahib”.

He said to Mawlavi: “I know you; your father was a friend of mine. I got really sad when I heard he was killed by someone in the Paghman district. Please let her go, tomorrow she will come to your office with her father.” 

On that terrible day, the Taliban broke the bookshelf. They took the newspaper license and the stamp with them. I went to a friend’s house and told my family not to stay at home because the Taliban would eventually visit them.

Illustration for Prishtina Insight: Diellza Gojani

The worst thing that ever happened to Afghan women was when the former government collapsed. Especially for a female journalist who worked for women’s awareness and was committed to finding and reporting on subjects regarding gender equality. 

I began working as a journalist at the beginning of 2017. I thought about women, and was in charge of women’s issues at Nimrokh Media. 

I published many articles from a female perspective. Later, I opened my own media, Hamasa-e-Tagher, which means Epic of Change. It was a weekly newspaper that spread love and hope to people throughout Afghanistan’s nine provinces. My colleagues and I worked hard to create a platform for those people, particularly women, to raise their voices.

Overall, I’ve written many articles related to women’s issues. And I’ve interviewed 53 Afghan women leaders, activists and lawmakers to have their thoughts on gender; to show how women participate in the nation’s highest levels of decision-making. 

I also assumed another duty at the Bolaq analysts’ network and spoke about the genocide of the Hazara people in conversations with knowledgeable researchers, lawmakers and authors. 

In 2018, while working as a journalist, I was awarded the best gender researcher by Rahela Trust, London. The impact of that led me to participate as a significant figure in women’s conferences for peace, gender, and education in Dubai and India, and also many other conferences inside Afghanistan.

I never thought that one day someone would decide to kill me just because I am a journalist and work as an educator. I aspired to be educated and helpful. I worked to create a better life.

I’d witnessed firsthand how my ambitions were crushed

Rahela Trust, RT, London, therefore offered me full financial support up till my graduation as a result of that. Rahela Sidiqi founded the RT organization in London, which promotes women’s awareness and girls’ education.

When the Taliban returned to power, my mother still had vivid memories of the gloomy times of the previous Taliban rule. August 15, 2021 reopened the scars left by flogging and stoning. As a young journalist, I’d witnessed firsthand how my ambitions were crushed, along with the media’s freedom and 20 years of progress made by Afghan women. My mother considered hiding me in a safer location in the days after the collapse, and I was more afraid than ever, thinking about what the Taliban may do to my family. 

On September 25, 2021, with the help of FPU, I moved to Islamabad and spent a year-and-a-half in Pakistan from September to December 2022,  when I moved to Kosovo, I produced some video stories as a MICT fellow in Islamabad and this organization introduced me to ECPMF and AJK for the “Journalists in residents-Kosovo” program, a program financially supported by Kosovo’s government. 

I am very thankful because they saved my life temporarily from all the problems that I had.

Kosovo is the youngest country on Europe’s green continent and is growing up with a sense of freedom. Kosovo has three nice meanings in my mother tongue.

Ko means, (The country’s mountainous landscape reflects sound and music, with the goal of tolerance and freedom).

So, (is long and melodious, to reach the racetrack’s final victory post).

Vo or wow (A song of surprise or exclamation caused by a sudden and unexpected pleasant situation).

Throughout the First World War and up until the country’s independence, Kosovo and its people traveled the path of freedom. In the late-19th century, this nation became the focal point of its awakened population’s independence movement. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the emergence of the liberation army, the song of freedom and independence of the Kosovo people and its nation became increasingly fervent and passionate.

When I look at the brilliant symbols of victory and glory since I arrived in this country. I see people’s kindness and pleasant behavior, as well as government officials’ kindness to citizens. It makes me believe that life is happening in this country in the real sense.

I believe wholeheartedly that Kosovo’s government and people have brought this young country freedom and grandeur, and that Kosovo will soon be one of the most developed countries in Europe. Freedom and independence are important human needs, values, and goals, and every free person strives and fights for these important human values. As a human being and as a journalist, I have always valued freedom and independence. Constantly working to bring freedom to others.

Afghanistan has long been embroiled in conflict, violence and discrimination. Ethnic minority groups like the Hazara community, which I belong to, have suffered under every system and government, and the situation is deteriorating. Talented journalists and investigative journalists have been murdered. Women and girls are compelled to remain silent. Girls are not permitted to attend school, university, and work, which is why the majority of families suffer from hunger and poverty. Despite violence and systematic discrimination, the previous Afghan government’s greatest achievement in the last 20 years was media freedom.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter

Many journalists were detained and murdered by the Taliban during the 19 months since they took over the country. As a result, Afghan journalists are unable to speak or write honestly about the country’s circumstances. Doing so puts them at grave risk. They are also facing economic difficulties while living abroad. Their futures are unclear in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Afghanistan is currently a hell for individuals who are conscious and educated, and who seek to improve their lives and provide for their families. It is my responsibility to write about this and make my voice heard. I am aware of how crucial it is to shine a modest light in this gloom and speak up in favour of something. 

Last but not least, I would end this story with the words of Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Amina Omid is one of the  Afghan journalists residing in Kosovo, after escaping the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan. She studied International Relations at Gawharshad University and received a journalism certificate from Jahan-e-Noor University.

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