'They came with a knife': Afghan journalists face attacks and arrests

Under Taliban rule, journalists are being threatened, attacked and detained for their work while others, many of them women, have been forced from their jobs.

Afghan journalist Zaki Qais tells CTV National News he lives in fear and switches houses often. Last week, two men identifying themselves as local police came to his door in Kabul and left him bloodied and bruised. Qais blames Taliban thugs for the attack, and believes their intentions were deadly because of his work as an outspoken social media journalist.

“I show people the violence of the Taliban,” Qais​ said in an interview in Kabul. “They came with a knife and dragged me out of the house.”

Qais says he was beaten and whipped by the Taliban twice before. They warned that commentary posted to the more than 300,000 followers on his Facebook page was not real journalism.

“How can a journalist do his job in Afghanistan?” Qais said, his head still bandaged from the recent attack. “I make the Taliban angry. If they arrest me again, they will kill me.”

According to the International Press Institute, Afghanistan was tied with India as the second most deadly country for journalists in 2021, following only Mexico. The situation may get worse.

Since the Taliban takeover in Aug. 2021, hundreds of newspapers, radio stations and television outlets have reportedly shuttered. While many journalists fled, rights groups report that those who stayed in Afghanistan have faced attacks and arrests, including as retaliation for covering rare anti-Taliban protests. Many female journalists have also been forced out of work.

When the Taliban seized Kabul last August, Setara Farahmand’s mother told her to come home immediately. Farahmand was a news anchor for a women’s television network in the city. She has not worked there since.

“It’s sad to see what’s happened to women journalists,” she told CTV News from her home in Kabul. “The situation is very bad for us.”

Farahmand says she and her three sisters seldom go out now and feel like prisoners in their own country. They also stand out as ethnic Hazaras, a persecuted minority group, which adds another layer of jeopardy to their young lives.

Farahmand’s 14-year-old sister Zohal wants to follow in her footsteps, but not in Afghanistan.

“I see the situation is not good for us to be a journalist,” Zohal said. “Because of that, I want to be a journalist in another country.”