‘The Taliban say they’ll kill me if they find me’: a female reporter still on the run speaks out

We return to the story of a journalist forced to flee as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August. Unable to return home without putting at risk everyone she loves and hounded by threatening calls, she remains in hiding in the country four months on

I am an Afghan female journalist and I have been on the run for more than four months. I have lived in numerous safe houses and the homes of people who’ve offered me refuge. I am constantly moving to avoid being caught, from province to province, city to city.

The Taliban insurgents have been threatening to kill me and my colleagues for two years, for our reports exposing their crimes in our province. But when they seized control of our provincial capital, they started to hunt for those who had spoken out against them. I decided to escape, for my own and my family’s safety.

I left my childhood home and my family with no idea when I would return or what fate awaited me. But, on 15 August, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Taliban fighters marched into Kabul and took control of the capital, leaving many of us vulnerable to the whims of this vengeful, violent group.

The first time I saw my mother in three months was in a market, a crowded public space. We were both wearing our long blue burqa; not just because it is now a requirement for women in my province, but also to avoid being recognised and caught by the Taliban, who now control my country.

In early August, she had helped me pack so I could escape the advancing Taliban forces that had captured my home province. She gave me the courage to leave so I wouldn’t get caught by the fighters who have been known to be unforgiving towards those, like me, who are critical of them.

When I first saw her in the market, I wanted to pull away our chaderis and just give her a hug. She nudged me to be quiet, held my hand and led me into a nearby store. She knew it would have been too risky for me to be recognised. Inside the shop, which belonged to a relative, she held me tight and kissed my face. I held her for such a long time; we talked and cried. It felt so good. It felt as if I had found something very precious after a very long time.

I am exhausted. I am tired of running and hiding. I am tired of begging friends and relatives to hide me in their homes. For four months, I have been thrown around the country like a football. I am tired of my life.

With Afghanistan under Taliban control, women’s voices have been silenced. For this special series, the Guardian’s Rights and freedom project has partnered with Rukhshana Media, a collective of female journalists across Afghanistan, to bring their reporting on the situation for girls and women across the country to a global audience.

Afghan journalists, especially women, face a dire situation.  The free press has been obliterated by the Taliban, and female journalists have been forced to flee or have lost their jobs.  Many of those still in the country are in hiding. Those who have escaped are now refugees facing an uncertain future. 

All of the reporting in this series will be carried out by Afghan women, with support from the editors on the Rights and freedom project.

These are the stories that Afghan women want to tell about what is happening to their country at this critical moment.

My mental state is very bad. I can’t sleep at night. I get nightmares when I close my eyes. I don’t find value in my own life. I can’t work to support myself. I used to be the breadwinner of my family, and now they are starving, while I am dependent on other people for survival. I also feel bad for the people who open their homes for me. Many of them are out of work and can barely feed their families. How can I expect them to feed me?

But I can’t return to my house or to my old life without risking the safety of everyone I love and care about. In the days after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban paid several visits to my parent’s house looking for me. Even in the months before the fall of Kabul, we had received threats at the media organisation where I used to work demanding that the female employees stop working.

We didn’t give in to their intimidations and instead published their letter on social media saying our female employees were not going anywhere. We told them we would continue our work despite their threats. In response, we received more threats. Even the noneditorial newsroom staff had calls from Taliban fighters asking them to resign. But we remained determined to continue. That was, of course, until our city fell to the Taliban, and it became physically impossible to persist.

My parents told the Taliban that I left the country during the August evacuations. But they didn’t believe them and keep calling me. They tell me they will kill me if they find me. I block the numbers they call me from, but they just call me from a different number or they call me on WhatsApp and other messaging platforms. I have blocked more than a hundred numbers so far, but they just keep calling from new numbers. They send me voice messages with terrible threats, telling me the awful things they will do to me.

A colleague told me that they can locate me using the GPS through these calls. One of our former colleagues was recently found by the Taliban and they claim they tracked him using the GPS on his phone. I don’t know if that is true, but I am terrified they will find me.

They have also been harassing my parents, telling them they know I am still in the country because my phone is active. They tell my father that if they catch me, they will punish my parents as well for lying to them.

Women who were previously a big part of the political and social life of my city are now jailed in their homes. Others are in actual prisons for speaking against the Taliban. Teachers and civil society members who were previously an active part of our public life are now absent, struggling to survive.

I have never been a refugee. I never had any wish to live anywhere other than my own country, with my family and friends, serving my people. But the last four months have been the most difficult and horrifying of my life. My only reprieve was when I met my mother, who gave me the strength and the motivation to continue.

It breaks my heart to say that I have been forced to consider leaving Afghanistan. I have been seeking refuge from countries that were our allies, so I can survive and continue my work. I cannot live a nomadic life like this. I need to work, to support myself, my family. I need to contribute to society, to correct the mistakes made by the many men in power. I need to survive.

  • As told to Hikmat Noori

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