| | Interview

Afghan journalist: like a bird escaping from the Taliban’s cage

Lima Niazi is an Afghan Journalist (Credit: Lima Niazi)

In the Spring of 2013, a poetry session was held in the Arg, Kabul’s imposing presidential house, where Lima Niazi recited her poem, I am President.  Niazi, a journalist, was a schoolgirl at the time.

Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai was also present in the room, along with other members of the government and poets.

Her poem was warmly received by Karzai, who she recalls saying: “I am happy that Afghan women are now stronger than ever and I hope one day that a woman does become president of Afghanistan.”

Eight years later, Niazi says the confidence she expressed as a girl – even the freedom to dream of such aspirations for women in Afghanistan – has been dashed. Instead, when the Taliban entered Kabul on 15 August, Niazi says she was left feeling numb for days.

“I was totally in shock. Like thousands of other Afghans, it was one of the darkest days of my life. I could not believe that all of our achievements, as well as the national and international values of our country, could be destroyed in one day,” she says, crying over the phone.

Niazi had been working as a journalist for Voice of America Pashto since 2017. “During my career, I made several reports on sensitive and political issues, for example, on the Taliban's conflict with the Afghan government, the lack of women's participation in the Taliban peace process with the government, and the concerns of Afghan women over the withdrawal of the US military, which created security problems for me.”

On that August day,  Niazi says she covered her face completely on leaving the house, fearing that someone would recognise her. A month later she fled the country. Now she's on her way to America, where she hopes that she will be able to start a new life.

“I miss my family,” Niazi continues sadly. “Sitting in my hotel room,  I am thinking about my life and how I have to manage it alone but I am optimistic about the future.”

According to Younes Mjahed, head of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), journalism in Afghanistan could disappear altogether amid increasing attacks on press freedom.  “Reporters try to continue working under the Taliban, but they have been subjected to beatings and imprisonment,” he says.

Female journalists have been particularly subject to threats, a survey of over 1,300 media workers by the Afghanistan National Journalists Union (ANJU) released last week shows.

Asked whether she was ever personally targeted by the Taliban, Niazi explains: “I am originally from a village in Laghman province. Our villagers have been fighters of the Taliban. They warned my family that I had to stop working in the media, which was not acceptable for me.”

Now that the militant group is back in control, she fears for the future of all women in her country.

“I have interviewed many powerful Afghan women,” she says.  “Women who had their own brand and business; women who were champions of politics, feminism and gender equality; and women who were active in media, music, fashion, and sport. I ask myself, what will happen to those women and what will happen to me?”

Recently, Niazi asked Dr. Naeem Wardak, a spokesperson for the Taliban in Doha, about their policy on women, who reiterated their pledge to respect women’s rights “according to Islamic law”.

But steps taken so far restricting women’s access to education goes against Islam, which she says allows access to all Muslims.

Now living safely outside her country, she wishes that her fellow Afghans will one day be given back their freedoms but the recent changes leave little room for hope.  “I am sad for all those people in general and for the women in particular who are still in Afghanistan. No rights, no freedoms, their life will be like a prisoner in a prison.”

The series is authored by Tooba Neda Safi, an Afghan journalist, poet and women’s rights activist now living in Switzerland after being forced to leave her country in 2014. Every week she will share stories from other women in her home country whose lives have been upturned since the Taliban took control.

Geneva Solutions reports on the activities of organisations in Geneva, many of which bring aid to conflict-hit countries like Afghanistan.  It’s also important to hear from the people living in the affected countries, which this series aims to do by telling stories like Niazi’s.