Afghan journalists describe terror after Taliban return

Militants have been hunting down media workers, despite promise of an amnesty

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For the six days since the Taliban took over Kabul, Mohammad Karim has been in hiding, as his work as a journalist has put his life in danger.

Karim, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is well known as a local journalist who worked independently and with members of the international media.

“The Taliban had threatened me before, but I never thought they could actually get to me,” he told The National. “I never really felt unsafe.”

But his world collapsed on August 15 when Taliban fighters entered Kabul after seizing most of the country.

If they catch me, they will surely kill me. Maybe not right away, but they will kill me
Mohammad Karim, Afghan journalist

“We were all shocked at what was happening. Then I got a text message from one of the Taliban fighters saying, ‘We're coming for you.'

“It was then I knew I had to leave or my family would also be at risk,” Karim said, speaking from one of the several locations he has had to move to since.

“If they catch me, they will surely kill me. Maybe not right away, but they will kill me.”

But even in the safe house, Karim knows the Taliban are looking for him.

“They came to my house yesterday. My father was home, and they demanded to know where I was.

"They told him, ‘Your son works with infidels. Tell us where he is.’

"My father did not reveal anything but my whole family is shaken.”

The Taliban also visited the home of a colleague and threatened them, Karim said.

“I am in shock and I can’t go back home.’

Karim is being hunted despite the Taliban's promise of an amnesty for Afghans who worked with the media, the government and with foreigners.

The militants have been reported to be conducting door-to-door searches looking for media and government workers.

Mina Hanif, a journalist in the eastern city of Jalalabad, who also asked for her name to be changed, said the Taliban persecution began long before they seized power.

“For many months now, I have been getting threatening calls from the Taliban asking me to leave my job.

“They would tell me, ‘You are a Muslim girl and you are going to work in a place with many men. If you want to save your honour and life, leave the job, stay at home and recite the Quran.’

“I didn’t take it seriously at first, but then three women journalists were killed in my city,” she said, referring to the shooting of three women working for Enikass TV on March 2.

Hanif quit her job soon after, but the threatening calls kept coming, and became more aggressive after the fall of Nangarhar province on August 14.

I destroyed the SIM card they were calling me on and got a new one. But then they showed up in my neighbourhood
Mina Hanif, journalist in Jalalabad

“I destroyed the SIM card they were calling me on and got a new one. But then they showed up in my neighbourhood,” she said.

The militants have been going from home to home, although they have not been to hers yet.

“They have a biometric device and are checking people’s documents, and taking away those who they can identify. If someone resists, they beat them up.”

Her family, which includes many working women, are terrified of the fate that awaits them.

“We collected all our documents and destroyed them but we are terrified of the biometric check,” Hanif said.

“We have so many documents including certificates, IDs and other documents that we were so proud to collect and own because it was a testament of our hard work, and it is all gone. They are now a threat to us.”

Hanif dismisses the Taliban claims that they are offering an amnesty.

“They said in the media they won’t hurt us, but I don’t believe them. I am seeing what they are doing to those in my neighbourhood.

“I know if they find me, they will kill me.”

Updated: August 21st 2021, 4:54 PM