I am very disappointed. Am I losing hope?
Women have been protesting for their rights in various provinces since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. But on Wednesday, September 8, they questioned Taliban leaders who decided to disband the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The Taliban claim to support equal rights under Islamic Sharia law. So, the protesters wanted to know, why the ministry has been removed?
My co-workers, Taki Dariabi, 22, and Nematullah “Nemat” Naqdi, 2, work as reporters and videographers for the Etilatros magazine. They were there to cover the protest.
But the Taliban tried to drag them out because they did not want the protests to be covered by the media. The women surrounded Taqi and Nemat to protect them. Taki and Nemat tried to tell the Taliban fighters that they were journalists. But in the end the Taliban managed to get them out and force them to go to the checkpoint.
Although they tell the international media that they are allowing freedom of the press and will respect women’s rights, the reality is something else. I never believed them. I will never trust them. These people are not human either. If I start believing in the Taliban then I have to doubt my own humanity.
Beatings, beatings and torture
Taki and Nemat later told me that at the checkpoint, they were taken to two separate rooms and whipped. They were punched and hit with water pipes. The Taliban are beaten with whatever access they have. One of them had his cheek torn off, so he was being hit right in the face.
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While they were being tortured, Taliban fighters shouted at them saying they had organized protests. When Taki and Nemat called that they were journalists, they were ignored.
They each lost consciousness a few times, they told me. Each time the Taliban fighters poured cold water on them to wake them up. And then it all ends again.
A journalist was on the phone with our office before detaining them. Our colleagues in the office were very worried. Three people, including the editor-in-chief, went to the checkpoint and tried to free Nemat and Taki from the Taliban because they were journalists. But the Taliban fighters became frustrated and started beating them on the streets.
Later when I spoke to my colleagues, they said that the Taliban had taken the three of them to a cell where there were 15 more people, but they were not all journalists. There was a man inside the house who was so covered in his own blood that the Taliban would not touch him. They bandaged my colleagues and told them to change the dressing on the wounded man’s wounds. It was found that the man took part in the women’s rights protest and received his PhD. In Sociology in India.
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Men in crowded houses hear people being tortured in neighboring cells. They heard women’s cries and screams.
Risking your life for your responsibility
My colleagues were kept in that cell for about four hours. When they were released, they returned to the office. Nemat and Taki were released a few days later, so they were fatal and weak they could not walk or support their own weight.
The Taliban threw them in the street. Since they could not walk, people helped take them to the Etilatros office. They tried to wash their faces; They tried to give them water to drink but these people were beaten so badly that they threw away the water they were drinking. They then took a taxi to the hospital, where the doctor told them to rest for two weeks.
When I spoke to them, they tried to reassure me that they were OK, but they also said that their names and pictures were so prominent and concerned about spreading around the world. What will happen to us after that, they thought. They have their home. They have nowhere else to go. They have no place to hide. They are doing their duty, they said. But if you are not safe, how do you do your duty?
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If Nemat and Taki get a chance to leave the country, they will have to save themselves. That’s all I can think of now. And I’m trying to find a way to help them.
Afghan journalists know that they cannot hide what is happening to them or their country. If they hide it, the Taliban will have more opportunities to abuse them. But spreading this news is also a huge risk to the lives of these people. Next time, if the Taliban sees any of my five colleagues, they may be killed. The Taliban are already killing and torturing people. It is very easy for them. It’s just a matter of giving them an order.
Since Wednesday’s incident, the Taliban have banned protests that they do not approve of. Reporting on the Taliban is not easy. To report on this ongoing reality, we have no choice but to go to the scene, take pictures, record voices, record videos, come back, write and publish – because we need accurate information.
If we don’t go there, who else should we risk?
Fatema Hossain is a journalist with the Etilatros newspaper in Afghanistan. He is also a freelance reporter for USA Today and NewsQuest.
Voices editor Kelsey Bloom has been told he is a member of USA Today’s editorial board.