“I couldn’t leave my colleagues behind me”

Hujatullah Mujadidi is the managing director of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, based in Kabul.

This interview has been translated and edited for length and clarity.

After the fall of Kabul, defenders of press freedom in Afghanistan fell silent. They no longer answered their phones or messages from journalists.

I decided to fill the void. To answer journalists’ questions and give them hope, and reassure them that we will stand together. No matter what, we are together.

Unfortunately, I received many tragic messages. I was very troubled and disturbed.

On the second or third day, I was able to meet journalists.

Many came from the provinces and stayed in shelters. They were in bad shape. Some didn’t even have enough to eat. I tried to comfort them and give them hope.

Over time, I was able to meet (Taliban spokesman Zabihullah) Mujahid and relay media concerns. He was sympathetic and agreed to form a three-person committee to address these concerns.

When the reporters realized I was the only media advocate left, they started calling. At night, I could barely sleep more than two hours.

I heard from provincial media officials who came to Kabul. They said, “I know you can’t solve our problems, but if we’re faced with a security threat, we want to make sure we have someone to contact.

They tear each other apart. Totally discouraged.

Around this time, I received an email from one of the European embassies, telling my family and I to be ready for evacuation.

I only had three hours to choose.

On the one hand, I was thinking of my children and their future. On the other, I thought of the journalists who called me saying that I was their only interlocutor.

It was a tough decision.

In the end, I decided that I couldn’t leave my colleagues behind.

In the beginning, journalists faced many problems. Access to information was restricted. The Taliban had only a few spokespersons to answer all questions from the media in Afghanistan.

Gradually, the departments appointed spokespersons. Although we continue to receive complaints that they do not always respond to journalists’ questions, things have improved.

Journalism is a difficult and dangerous profession. You don’t accept it easily. But my commitment to myself was that I would never back down. I will continue no matter what.

I say to myself: ‘If I step back, why did I choose this profession?’

Although I was opposed to journalists leaving Afghanistan, I sympathize with those who have left.

Journalists lost their jobs. Some cut wood in the mountains and sell maize in the streets. They are not doing well psychologically. They face financial difficulties. Their children need food and education. They want a normal life.

Unfortunately, none of these things are accessible to them.

A number of journalists continue to look for a way out (of the country), saying they don’t feel safe. More cite the lack of job opportunities. They want to go to a country where they and their children can have a secure future.

This is a blow to freedom of expression. We could lose all our achievements.

The only way to stop the exodus of journalists is to create jobs. And only organizations protecting journalists and defending the media can remedy this.

Unfortunately, international donors have not invested in ways that allow local media to survive. We lost a lot of our media, and that led to unemployment, forcing journalists abroad.

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