Tue 21 Oct, 2008 01:38 pm
Despite Death Threats, a Female Afghan Journalist Keeps Reporting
U.S. News and World Report By Amanda Ruggeri
Posted October 20, 2008
For her reporting on risky topics like women and warlords in Afghanistan, journalist Farida Nekzad, 31, has received numerous death threats and saved herself from kidnapping only by jumping out of a moving car. She's also seen colleagues be murdered for similar work.
But the managing editor of the independent Pajhwok Afghan News agency"and the recent recipient of the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism award"continues to report in her native country, fighting for the free press and women's rights.
She recently spoke, through an interpreter, with U.S. News. Excerpts:
Has the situation for Afghan women changed since the end of Taliban rule?
After the fall of the Taliban, the women's situation got a little better in Afghanistan. Women were given a chance in the media"in radio, in television. In the beginning and the first few years, the situation was very good. But unfortunately, as the years went by, the security issues for women have gotten worse. In other words, there is no safety for women. Women journalists were, and they still are, under pressure from several fronts.
What are the specific problems that female reporters face?
One major issue that women reporters have is that they are reporting about the issues of women, and they are bringing the problems to the people. What women reporters specifically do is report on the situation of violence against women, such as forced marriages, in which very young girls like 12 or 13, or even younger, would be married to a man who's 50 or 60 years old. When the reporters write about these issues, the ruling power does not want to tolerate it, does not want these issues to be heard by people or to be talked about. And when a woman leader comes out and talks about the issues of women's rights, women's freedom, and freedom of speech, that woman is in a lot of danger.
What kinds of threats are female journalists receiving, and how does this affect their work?
It depends on where the report or the threats are made. For instance, if a reporter is being threatened in Kabul, she can use ways to evade these threats. But if there's a female reporter who is in a province outside of Kabul, it's very difficult for her to change where she stays, for instance, or pick a different route to where she's going.
So she has two options. She either has to leave the profession of journalism or she has to move from where she lives. One journalist who was being threatened in the province of Kandahar"they attacked her home. She moved from Kandahar, and now she's residing in Herat. This is still going on, and it's getting really more difficult for female journalists. First, they are threatened to leave the profession, and then they are threatened that they will be killed, and then they will be attacked and killed. And attacks have happened. Several female journalists have been killed.
Was there ever a time when you reconsidered your decision to stay and report in Afghanistan?
There was a female reporter"actually, she owned a radio station in Afghanistan"called Zakia Zaki, and she was brutally murdered. While I was at her funeral, I received a phone call threatening that I would have the same fate. Because I was next to Zakia's body and I was receiving threatening calls on my cellphone, I got really scared. And I thought maybe I should quit this profession. For a while, I wanted to have a low profile"be low-key"so I would be away from danger. But then I saw the encouragement from my family, my husband, and especially the international community. That gave me courage, and that gave me hope, so I continued.
What motivates you to work under such difficult conditions?
What motivates me is to be able to really encourage other female journalists not to quit. I am really fighting because I want them to be able to continue in this profession, to not leave this profession. I would like to break the silence that those people who are against female journalists want to have.
If you could ask the U.S. presidential candidates any question on their position on Afghanistan, what would that question be?
This is a question that almost all the people of Afghanistan would like to ask, me being one of them. It is: What is the specific strategy that you have to bring permanent peace to Afghanistan?