Female journalist flees Afghanistan after interview with Taliban

Female journalist flees Afghanistan following ground-breaking interview with Taliban spokesman because she is afraid of the terror group

  • On August 17, Beheshta Arghand interviewed a Taliban spokesperson on TOLO
  • It is believed to be the first time a women has interviewed the Taliban on TV
  • However, she told CNN on Monday that she has fled Afghanistan out of fear
  • After they recapturing the country following 20 years in the cold, many fear what life under the Taliban will be like, with women’s rights seen as most at-risk

A female Journalist in Afghanistan has fled the country following a ground-breaking interview with a Taliban spokesman – because she is afraid of the militant group.

On August 17, Beheshta Arghand made history in the country by conducting the interview on TOLONews in the wake of the Taliban taking control of Kabul.

Two days later, she interviewed Malala Yousafzai, the activist from Pakistan who survived a 2012 Taliban assassination attempt, in which she was shot in the head.

The first interview is believed to be the first time a member of the Taliban had been interviewed live on TV by a woman, while the second was described as the first time Malala had ever been interviewed on Afghan television, according to TOLONews. 

While the appearance of Ms Arghand and other women on the channel has been commonplace in recent years, as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan questions were raised whether women would continue to be allowed to work in the media.

Initially, it appeared from the outside that the hard-line Islamist group were taking a more tolerant approach, but now Ms Arghand has told CNN she is fleeing the country out of fear and reports of Taliban abuse against women are rife.

Earlier this month, Beheshta Arghand (pictured left) made history in the country by conducting an interview with a Taliban spokesperson on TOLONews in the wake of the Taliban taking control of Kabul

Writing to the American news network on WhatsApp, she said: ‘I left the country because, like millions of people, I fear the Taliban.’

Saad Mohseni, the owner of TOLONews, said that Ms Arghand’s case was indicative of the situation in the country now that the militant group are in control.

‘Almost all our well known reporters and journalists have left,’ he told CNN. ‘We have been working like crazy to replace them with new people.’

‘We have the twin challenge of getting people out [because they feel unsafe] and keeping the operation going,’ he added.

TOLONews is a 24-hour news channel set up in Afghanistan in 2004 after the US invasion of the country removed the Taliban from power.

Now, after the US agreed to leave the country after 20 years of occupation, the Taliban have re-gained control of the country and women are feared to be some of the most at-risk people under the new Taliban government. 

Pictured: TOLONews Host Beheshta Arghand (left) interviews Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a member of the Taliban’s media team (right) in a broadcast on August 17

TOLONews – a 24-hour news channel set up in Afghanistan in 2004 – said earlier this month that its female news anchors had returned to live broadcasting. The channel’s head of news Miraqa Popal wrote on Twitter on on August 17 (pictured): ‘We resumed our broadcast with female anchors today.’

When the Islamists came to power in 1996 after the country’s terrifying Civil War, they imposed theocracy and brutalised and oppressed women and girls, who were denied education and employment, and punished in horrific ways for breaking rules. 

Arghand, who is just 24 years old, told CNN that she had worked at TOLONews for ‘one month and 20 days’ before the Taliban took control.

Beforehand, she had studied journalism at Kabul University for four years, and subsequently worked at several news agencies and radio stations.

Her interview with the Taliban spokesperson on August 17 was the first time in Afghanistan’s history that a Taliban representative appeared live in a TV studio sitting across from a female presenter,’ Mohseni said, writing for the Washington Post. 

The TOLONews owner said in the initial stages of their takeover, the Taliban were trying to ‘present a moderate face to the world’. 

Pictured: A woman wearing  traditional a sky-blue Burqa carries a child as passengers board a U.S. Air Force plane supporting of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021

Arghand said that while her interview was challenging, she did it for the women of Afghanistan, knowing that resistance to their regime must start somewhere.

‘If we stay in our houses or don’t go to our offices, they will say the ladies don’t want to work, but I said to myself, ‘Start working,” she told CNN. ‘And I said to the Taliban member, ‘We want our rights. We want to work. We want — we must —be in society. This is our right.”

As western countries near the completion of their withdrawal from Kabul and desperate Afghan try to leave the country, new accounts of Taliban intimidation against the media and women are reported each day.

Last week, the BBC reported a Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had told working women in the country to stay home until proper systems were in place to ensure their safety, a measure he called a ‘temporary procedure’.

Meanwhile, the UN has raised the alarm over ‘credible’ reports of abuses perpetuated by the Taliban, most notably against women.

Two days after interviewing Malala, Arghand contacted the activist for help, and on Tuesday last week she was able to board a Qatari Air Force evacuation flight along with several of her family members, CNN reported.

She told the network that she hopes to return to the country one day, but would only do so if he safety could be guaranteed. 

‘If the Taliban do what they said — what they promised — and the situation becomes better, and I know I am safe and there is no threat for me, I will go back to my country and I will work for my country. For my people,’ she said. 

Pictured: A US Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 30, 2021

On Monday morning, U.S. anti-missile defences intercepted rockets fired at Kabul’s airport, as the United States flew its core diplomats out of Afghanistan in the final hours of its chaotic withdrawal.

The last U.S. troops are due to pull out of Kabul by Tuesday, after they and their allies mounted the biggest air evacuation in history, bringing out 114,000 of their own citizens and Afghans who helped them over 20 years of war.

Two U.S. officials said the ‘core’ diplomatic staff had withdrawn by Monday morning. They did not say whether this included top envoy Ross Wilson, expected to be among the last to leave before the final troops themselves.

A U.S. official said initial reports did not indicate any U.S. casualties from as many as five missiles fired on the airport. Islamic State – enemies of both the West and the Taliban – claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.

The rockets followed a massive Islamic State suicide bombing outside the teeming airport gates on Thursday, which killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. troops.

In recent days Washington has warned of more attacks, while carrying out two air strikes against Islamic State targets, including one on Sunday it said thwarted an attempted suicide bombing by blowing up a car packed with explosives.

Tuesday’s deadline for all troops to leave was ordered by President Joe Biden, fulfilling an agreement reached with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump to end Washington’s longest war.

But having failed to anticipate that the Taliban would so quickly conquer the country, Washington and its NATO allies were forced into a hasty evacuation. 

They will leave behind thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and might have qualified for evacuation but did not make it out in time.

Pictured: A view of a street after at least five rockets were fired at the Afghan capital Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30, 2021

The Taliban, who carried out public executions and banned girls and women from school or work when last in power 20 years ago, have said they will safeguard rights and not pursue vendettas. 

They say once the Americans leave, the country will at last be at peace for the first time in more than 40 years.

But countless Afghans, especially in the cities, fear for their futures. And the United Nations said the entire country now faces a dire humanitarian crisis, cut off from foreign aid amid a drought, mass displacement and COVID-19.

‘The evacuation effort has undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of lives, and these efforts are praiseworthy,’ said UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi.

‘But when the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan. They need us governments, humanitarians, ordinary citizens to stay with them and stay the course.’

A Pakistani plane flew 12.5 tonnes of World Health Organization medical supplies on Monday to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the global health body’s first shipment to reach Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

The emergency and trauma kits would be distributed to hospitals across the country, said the WHO, which had warned on Friday that Afghanistan’s medical supplies would run out within days.

Outside the airport in Kabul, people described themselves as foresaken by the departing foreign troops.

‘We are in danger,’ said one woman. ‘They must show us a way to be saved. We must leave Afghanistan or they must provide a safe place for us.’

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